Twelve ideas to help you stay healthy during flu season
The 2013 flu season has begun, and while it is still early in the season, cases have already been reported in the U.S. Winter gatherings can bring together people who are vulnerable to the cold & flu virus.
People who get together for the winter holidays can be exposed to viruses from other parts of the region and can pick up and spread the illness from wherever they’ve been. Here are some small, individual changes you can make lending to a healthy winter season.
- Drink black or green tea with lemon and honey. Drinking hot tea while breathing in the steam stimulates the cilia – the hair follicles in the nose – to move out germs more efficiently. Lemon thins mucus and honey is antibacterial.
- Consume enough protein. Diets that are too low in protein can deplete the immune system. The current recommendation for protein intake is at least 60 grams per day for adult women and at least 75 grams per day for adult men, depending on age, activity level and if they need to gain/lose weight.
- Slowly exhale. When walking past a person who is sneezing or coughing, slowly exhale until you’re past them. This avoids you inhaling contaminated air.
- Try Zinc lozenges. If you get a scratchy throat, zinc lozenges can relieve cold symptoms faster.
- Eat your fruits and vegetables. Eating 5 or more fruits and vegetables each day will provide many vitamins and minerals necessary for your immune system to function properly. Try to choose more vegetables than fruit.
- Sanitize your space. You can sanitize commonly touched items (cell phones, grocery carts, keyboards, gym equipment) to help the spread of germs. Remember, rhinoviruses causing cold & flu symptoms can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours!
- Pamper your nose. The job of your nose is to filter allergens, bacteria, and viruses floating in the air. By using saline nasal rinses, you can help flush germs and clear secretions in your upper airway.
- Consume enough water. The urge to drink water can decrease in colder months, but the need for water is still important. Consuming enough fluids will eliminate toxins from your lymph system which keeps your immune system functioning properly.
- Get a massage for your immune system! Massage increases circulation which boosts immunity by nourishing cells with more oxygen filled blood. Click here to learn about our massage services.
- Sanitize your brushes. Think about the items you may reuse every day and consider cleaning or replacing them (cosmetics and make up brushes, toothbrushes, hair brushes, hand towels). A quick swipe of an alcohol wipe on a tube of lipstick or washing make up brushes in an antibacterial soap can support a healthy immune system.
- Sleep. Research shows that adults need 7-8 hours of sleep to stimulate an immune response from our natural killer cells which are the cells that attack viruses.
- Humidity. Dry air in the winter can cause your lips, mouth, & nose to become dry and cracked. Cracked skin can be an entry point for bacteria and viruses. Consider a humidifier to help keep moisture in the air.
Homemade Sani Wipes:
Fold or cut paper towels or napkins and put them into a wipe container. Use 1 1/2 cup of warm water, add 1 Tbsp. of coconut oil, and 1 tsp. of alcohol. Add 3 drops of lavender oil if you like. Then mix well and pour the mixture into the container of napkins to saturate them. Makes 2 containers.
Your health and wellness crew in WELLAWARE wish you a healthy winter season.
- Patz, A. (2013, December). Live healthy. Health 27(10).
- CDC. (2013, November 22). Seasonal Influenza. Retrieved fromhttp://www.cdc.gov/flu/
- CDC. (2012, October). Nutrition for everyone: protein. Retrieved fromhttp://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html
- Beyond an Apple a Day: 10 Germ-Busting Tips for Cold and Flu Season (redtri.com)
- Study Finds How Flu Evolves to Escape Immunity (medindia.net)
- Above the inFLUence > If you’re sick, don’t work. If your work requires you to come in sick, let us know. (newsreview.com)
- Tip of the Week: Cold and Flu Season (pacusher.wordpress.com)
- Personalized Flu Vaccines Approved By FDA: New, Unique Options For The Elderly, Children, And People With Allergies (medicaldaily.com)
- 5 Tips on How to Stay Flu Free (roserenea91.wordpress.com)
- Vaccines, Flu & Other Seasonal Ailments: What You Need To Know (whnt.com)
“This season the forecasts will be more readily available to the public on a website hosted by Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health expected to launch in the coming weeks.”
Researchers take a page from weather forecasting to predict seasonal influenza outbreaks in 108 cities across the country
Scientists were able to reliably predict the timing of the 2012-2013 influenza season up to nine weeks in advance of its peak. The first large-scale demonstration of the flu forecasting system by scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health was carried out in 108 cities across the United States.
Results are published online in the journal Nature Communications.
The flu forecasting system adapts techniques used in modern weather prediction to turn real-time, Web-based estimates of influenza infection into local forecasts of the seasonal peak by locality. Influenza activity peaked in cities in the southeast as early as December 2012, but crested in most of the country in the first weeks of 2013.
Year to year, the flu season is highly variable. It can happen anywhere from December to April. But when it arrives, cities can go from practically no cases to thousands in a very short time. “Having greater advance warning of the timing and intensity of influenza outbreaks could prevent a portion of these influenza infections by providing actionable information to officials and the general public,” says first author Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
For the public, the flu forecast could promote greater vaccination, the exercise of care around people sneezing and coughing, and a better awareness of personal health. For health officials, it could inform decisions on how many vaccines and antiviral drugs to stockpile, and in the case of a virulent outbreak, whether other measures, like closing schools, are necessary.
The new study builds on the researchers’ 2012 study that used the system to retrospectively predict the peak of the flu in New York City for the years 2003-2008. That research was limited to one city and performed as a test of the system. The current study is the first to make predictions in actual real-time and for the whole country.
Beginning in late November of 2012, the researchers used the flu forecasting system to perform weekly estimates for 108 cities. They shared the results with the CDC and posted them online in an academic archive. Near the end of 2012, four weeks into the flu season, the system had predicted 63% of cities accurately. As the season progressed, the accuracy increased. By week four, it successfully predicted the seasonal peak in 70% of the country. It was able to give accurate lead-times up to nine weeks in advance of the peak; most lead-times were two to four weeks.
The flu forecasts were also much more reliable than those made using alternate, approaches that rely on historical data. “Our method greatly outperformed these alternate schemes,” says Dr. Shaman.
The researchers saw regional differences in the accuracy of the system, but they were likely within normal variation. “As an example, retrospectively, we’ve been able to predict the flu in Chicago very well; this year we did a terrible job in that city. For other cities, the opposite held. It averages out. On the whole the system performed very well,” Dr. Shaman says. However, there were hints of geographical differences. “We were able make better predictions in smaller cities. Population density may also be important. It suggests that in a city like New York, we may need to predict at a finer granularity, perhaps at the borough level. In a big sprawling city like Los Angeles, we may need to predict influenza at the level of individual neighborhoods.”
Google Flu Trends Goes “Off the Rails”
The researchers designed the flu forecasting system to use combined data from 1) Google Flu Trends, which makes estimates of outbreaks based on the number of flu-related search queries, and 2) region-specific reports from the Centers for Disease Control on verified cases of flu. The system approach is analogous to weather forecasting, which employs real-time observational data to reduce model forecasts error. In the last year, the researchers slightly modified the system to be more representative of flu rather than flu and other respiratory problems. Nevertheless, there was unusual level of “noise” in the data related to problems with Google Flu Trends.
How did this happen? One explanation is the high number of media stories about the flu, including some about the flu forecasting system itself. The result was a spike in people using Google to research the flu, which could have overloaded the Flu Trends algorithm. It’s an irony not lost on Dr. Shaman. “There was a tremendous amount of media attention accorded to the flu last year. I was part of the problem myself,” he says. Another factor may have been the particular strain of flu in circulation. “The flu was very virulent and was making people very sick, more so than previous seasons,” says Dr. Shaman. Again this could have led to spike in flu-related Google search queries. (In October, Google announced that it has revised the Flu Trends, which Dr. Shaman hopes will make flu forecasting more accurate.)
The system will be put back in action as soon as the flu season begins again. “Right now there are few cases of the flu, but as soon as the needle starts to move, we will start making predictions,” says Dr. Shaman. This season the forecasts will be more readily available to the public on a website hosted by Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health expected to launch in the coming weeks.
Worldwide, influenza kills an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S. 3,000-49,000 die from the flu every year, and about 45% of Americans were vaccinated for the flu, according to the CDC.
Co-authors include Wan Yang and James Tamerius, post-doctoral students of Dr. Shaman (Dr. Tamerius is currently at the University of Iowa); Alicia Karspeck at the National Center for Atmospheric Research; and Marc Lipsitch at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health (GM100467, ES009089) and the Department of Homeland Security. Dr. Lipsitch discloses consulting or honorarium income from the Avian/Pandemic Flu Registry (Outcomes Sciences; funded in part by Roche), AIR Worldwide, Pfizer and Novartis. All other authors declare no competing financial interests.
- Will You Get the Flu? This Real-Time Flu Forecaster Could Tell You (healthland.time.com)
- Flu predictions get more accurate (philedufutureboytech.wordpress.com)
- Flu predictions get more accurate (news.cnet.com)
- Flu predictions get more accurate (news.cnet.com)
- First real-time flu forecast successful (eurekalert.org)
- Scientists Use Weather Forecasting Methods to Predict Flu Season Peak (usnews.com)
- Real-Time Flu Forecast Predicts Outbreaks in Each US City (livescience.com)
- Flu Forecast: Scientists Develop Predict Influenza By Utilizing Weather Forecasting Ideas (wonderfultips.wordpress.com)
Revealing influenza’s truly insidious nature, Whitehead Institute scientists have discovered that the virus is able to infect its host by first killing off the cells of the immune system that are actually best equipped to neutralize the virus.
Confronted with a harmful virus, the immune system works to generate cells capable of producing antibodies perfectly suited to bind and disarm the hostile invader. These virus-specific B cells proliferate, secreting the antibodies that slow and eventually eradicate the virus. A population of these cells retains the information needed to neutralize the virus and takes up residence in the lung to ward off secondary infection from re-exposure to the virus via inhalation.
- Researchers Discover How Flu Gains Foothold in the Body (news.health.com)
- Researchers Discover How Flu Gains Foothold in the Body (oddonion.com)
- Super Flu Vaccine Eliminates All Strains of the Virus (americanlivewire.com)
- Universal flu vaccine ‘blueprint’ (bbc.co.uk)
- How vaccines work (missvenecia.wordpress.com)
- Top Ten Myths About The Flu (charlotte.cbslocal.com)
[Reblog] With CDC Seasonal Flu Data Unavailable, An Electronic Medical Record Offers a Glimpse of Early Activity Levels
As Washington remains deadlocked on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the US government’s shutdown has resulted in the furlough of nearly 70% of the Centers for Disease Control‘s (CDC’s) workforce. CDC Director Tom Frieden recently shared his thoughts in a tweet. We agree whole-heartedly. Although it’s all too easy to take the CDC staff for granted, they are the frontline sentinels (and the gold standard) for monitoring disease outbreaks. Their ramp-down could have serious public health consequences.
We are particularly concerned about the apparent temporary discontinuation of the CDC’s flu surveillance program, which normally provides weekly reports on flu activity. Although flu season typically begins in late fall, outbreaks have occurred earlier in previous years. In 2009, flu cases started accumulating in late summer/early fall. And given the potential for unique variants, such as the swine or avian flu, every season is unpredictable, making the need for regular CDC flu reports essential. We therefore hope to see the CDC restored to full capacity as soon as possible.
In the meantime, we would like to help by sharing data we have on communicable diseases, starting with the flu.
Because the athenahealth database is built on a single-instance, cloud-based architecture, we have the ability to report data in real time. As we have described in earlier posts, the physicians we serve are dispersed around the country with good statistical representation across practice types and sizes.
To get a read on influenza vaccination rates so far this season, we looked at more than two million patients who visited a primary care provider between August 1 and September 28, 2013 (Figure 1). We did not include data on vaccinations provided at retail clinics, schools or workplaces.
This year’s rates are trending in parallel to rates over the last four years, and slightly below those of the 2012-2013 season. However, immunizations accelerate when the CDC, and consequently the media, announce disease outbreaks and mount public awareness campaigns.
As for the government shutdown, nearly everyone hopes for a quick end. Should the standoff drag on, detection of the flu (or other diseases) may be delayed, in theory endangering the public. Fortunately, we currently see no evidence of an early influenza outbreak. But recent history shows that the flu can begin spreading at any time, and once it does begin, it spreads very quickly, as shown in Figure 2.
We believe that our data provides a reliable view of seasonal flu trends. Last year, wewrote about the 2012-2013 flu season and found that patterns in our patient population (consisting of a large proportion of patients receiving immunizations in primary care settings) closely mirrored CDC trends. With that in mind, we believe that sharing our 2013-2014 data would be valuable to the health care community.
Whether our nation’s politicians can come to an agreement tomorrow or next month, we will continue to deliver reports that monitor population health and look ahead to contributing any information we can. If you have any suggestions or comments – on the flu or other diseases where up-to-date data would be valuable – please leave a comment here or e-mail me directly at email@example.com.
- The flu season has started – but CDC isn’t tracking it (medicalstaffingnetwork.wordpress.com)
- Government shutdown hampers flu tracking (fresnobee.com)
- Top 5 Flu Season Fallacies (resqscan.wordpress.com)
- With 2/3 Of CDC Furloughed, There’s No One To Study The Flu (minnesota.cbslocal.com)
- Flu Season: How the Shutdown Could — Literally! — Make You Sick (dailyfinance.com)
[The]majority of influenza virus in the air samples analyzed was found in small particles during non-aerosol-generating activities up to a 6-foot distance from the patient’s head..
Vaccination of health providers remains a fundamental and key part of protecting them from influenza
A new study suggests that patients with influenza can emit small virus-containing particles into the surrounding air during routine patient care, potentially exposing health care providers to influenza. Published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, the findings raise the possibility that current influenza infection control recommendations may not always be adequate to protect providers from influenza during routine patient care in hospitals…
The current belief is that influenza virus is spread primarily by large particles traveling up to a maximum of 3 to 6 feet from an infected person. Recommended precautions for health providers focus on preventing transmission by large droplets and following special instructions during aerosol-generating procedures. In this study, Dr. Bischoff and his team discovered that the majority of influenza virus in the air samples analyzed was found in small particles during non-aerosol-generating activities up to a 6-foot distance from the patient’s head, and that concentrations of virus decreased with distance. The study addressed only the presence of influenza-containing particles near patients during routine care, not the actual transmission of influenza infection to others.
Fitted respirators are currently required for health care providers during aerosol-generating procedures with patients. During routine, non-aerosol-generating patient care, the current precautions recommend that providers wear a non-fitted face mask. Based on their findings, Dr. Bischoff and investigators are concerned that providers may still be exposed to infectious dosages of influenza virus up to 6 feet from patients with small wide-spreading particles potentially exceeding the current suggested exposure zones.
These findings suggest that current infection control recommendations may need to be reevaluated, the study authors concluded. The detection of “super-emitters” raises concerns about how individuals with high viral load may impact the spread of influenza, they noted. “Our study offers new evidence of the natural emission of influenza and may provide a better understanding of how to best protect health care providers during routine care activities,” the study authors wrote. However, studies of influenza virus transmission will be necessary before the role of super-emitters can be firmly established, they noted…
Whatever protective equipment or infection control practices are used for preventing influenza transmission, vaccination of health providers remains a fundamental and key part of protecting them from influenza, noted Dr. William Schaffner, professor medicine and chair of the department of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., who was not involved with the study. “Influenza vaccination, although not perfect, is the best tool we have to protect health care workers — and their patients — from influenza illness.
- Health care providers may be at greater risk of flu exposure (eurekalert.org)
- Stand Back: Flu Virus Travels 6 Feet (livescience.com)
- People with flu can release small, flu-filled particles into air: Study (sunnewsnetwork.ca)
- 2012-13 Influenza vaccine effectiveness: a preliminary estimate (bio230fall2010.wordpress.com)
I could not have said it better myself.
Responses in a recent survey ranged from blaming Hurricane Sandy (with a government coverup) to profit motivations by BigPharma to vaccine inffectiveness.
- Flu myths: Know your bug (sacbee.com)
- CDC: Flu activity continues to be high across the United States (medicalxpress.com)
- How To Avoid The Flu Epidemic While Traveling (gadling.com)
- US flu epidemic worsens, 29 children dead (terradaily.com)
From the 1 January 2012 article at newswise
newswise — Monitoring Internet search traffic about influenza may prove to be a better way for hospital emergency rooms to prepare for a surge in sick patients compared to waiting for outdated government flu case reports. A report on the value of the Internet search tool for emergency departments, studied by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine over a 21-month period, is published in the January 9 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The researchers reported a strong correlation between a rise in Internet searches for flu information, compiled by Google’s Flu Trends tool, and a subsequent rise in people coming into a busy urban hospital emergency room complaining of flu-like symptoms….
PITTSBURGH—The flu shot, typically the first line of defense against seasonal influenza, could better treat the U.S. population, thanks to University of Pittsburgh researchers.
New research that focuses on the composition and timing of the shot design was published in the September-October issue of Operations Research by Pitt Swanson School of Engineering faculty members Oleg Prokopyev, an assistant professor, and Professor Andrew Schaefer, both in the Department of Industrial Engineering, and coauthors Osman Ozaltin and Mark Roberts, professor and chair in Pitt’s Department of Health Policy and Management. Ozaltin, who is now an assistant professor of engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, did his research for the study as a Pitt graduate student in the Swanson School; he earned his Pitt PhD degree in industrial engineering earlier this year.
The exact composition of the flu shot is decided every year by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the decision is complicated.
“The flu’s high rate of transmission requires frequent changes to the shot,” said Prokopyev. “Different strains can also cocirculate in one season, which gives us another challenge for figuring out the composition.”
The Pitt researchers used powerful optimization methods from engineering to examine whether they could improve the yearly decisions made regarding what strains of influenza should be included in the current year’s vaccine. The strains of flu that will be most likely to appear in the regular flu season are not known with certainty, but waiting longer to finalize the composition of the vaccine and observing what strains are occurring in other parts of the world improves the accuracy of the selection. However, the longer the FDA waits to make the decision, the more likely it is that there will be insufficient vaccine produced by the start of flu season. The model developed by the Pitt researchers balances these two important characteristics of the flu selection decision and integrates the composition and timing decisions of the flu shot design….
- Flu (MedlinePlus) with links to overviews, basic information, health check tools, research articles, and more
- Flu.gov (US CDC and other federal agencies) with links to news articles, prevention tips, ask-an-expert answers, vaccine location finder, and much more
- Seasonal Influenza (Flu)(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) with links to activity/surveillance map, flu basics, treatment/prevention, info for specific groups, and more
- Grocery Store or Doctor’s Office: Does It Matter Where You Get Your Flu Shot? (livescience.com)
- Get the Flu Vaccine, America, CDC Urges (inquisitr.com)
- Flu finally makes an appearance (mysanantonio.com)
If you become infected with the flu after getting vaccinated, your body activates an immune response that stops you from becoming ill. Although, this can trigger the virus to change into a slightly different form – one that may be more infectious.
A novel investigation from MIT reveals the mechanism responsible for this phenomenon, known as antigenic drift. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology and appears in the December 19 online edition of Scientific Reports, an open-access journal published by Nature.
- How Influenza Evolves – And How To Stop It From Doing So (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Lab-Made Bird Flu Details Kept Secret (myfoxny.com)
- Influenza A (H1N1) [swine flu] (codesandstuff.wordpress.com)
- Georgetown researchers lead discovery expected to significantly change biomedical research (eurekalert.org)
- The Flu – How To Stop It! (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
During the 1918 to 1920 global influenzaepidemic, between 50 to 100 million people lost their lives, with over a quarter of the world’s population having being infected. Although vaccines might help in the event of a similar outbreak today, the possibility still remains that vaccine production would not be able to cope with such an influx in demand to make an important impact. In addition, hospitals would probably be overstretched, leaving many patients to be cared for by family members at home.
According to Richard Larson and Stan Finkelstein, members of MIT’s Engineering Systems Division (ESD), non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) would be critical in these situations to minimize the spread of infection. Larson and Finkelstein want to inform people on how to avoid flu from spreading amongst family members and those living or working in close quarters. Larson, Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems explains:
“We thought, let’s look at the dynamics of the home and see if there are any reasonably inexpensive steps that people could take to care for their loved ones and simultaneously minimize the chance of getting infected.”
They discovered that following simple steps, such as washing hands properly, wearing masks and strategically controlling temperature, humidity and air circulation, could all assist in decreasing the risk of flu from spreading. Even though their recommendations are based on fighting pandemic flu, these measures could also prevent the spread of the common seasonal flu, which typically kills about 30,000 people each year in the U.S. ….
- The Flu: A Guide For Parents (education.com)
- Do flu shots cause the flu? 12 influenza vaccine myths busted (cbsnews.com)
- Swine Flu: Caring for a Sick Person at Home (everydayhealth.com)
- Skip the flu vaccine? “There’s no excuse,” says CDC (cbsnews.com)
- Dec. 4-10 Is National Influenza Vaccination Week! (cdc.gov)
- More People Getting Flu Shots This Year (webmd.com)
- How to Choose the Right Flu Vaccine (everydayhealth.com)
- Cold and Flu Prevention (everydayhealth.com)
- 8 *BUSTED* Myths About Flu Vaccines (mayorshealthline.wordpress.com)
- Flu Myths: Fact and Fiction (abcnews.go.com)
There is a lot of information about flu vaccines and the effects it has on the human body. Most of the information regarding flu vaccines is true and factual, and is often disseminated through publications and fact sheets authored by members of such organizations as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, and the national office of Health and Human Services.
However, there are still misconceptions about the flu vaccine. This post will offer another avenue for correct information that keeps Boston healthy and happy.
Myth 1: Flu shots can cause the flu
All vaccines contain an inactive sample of the virus it’s meant to fight. The same is true for the flu vaccine. The body recognizes these inactive flu viruses and makes antibodies to destroy them. When an active flu virus is present in the body, the body already has stored antibodies that can and will attack the flu virus.
Myth 2: Flu shots can cause autism
This myth has gained considerable notoriety as GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann recited this misconception. The flu vaccine contains thimerosal, a preservative that has mercury. Thimerosal has been linked to many health problems, including autism. However, health and medical professionals agree that a small exposure to thimerosal will cause no more harm than some minor red irritation at the injection area.
Myth 3: Flu shots received late in the flu season are ineffective at preventing the flu
Some people believe that getting a flu shot after November is pointless. However, it is never too late to start protecting yourself. Although it is recommended that one gets a flu shot early in the season, for ample protection time. The flu season typically lasts as long as the winter season. Especially in Boston, residents can expect exposure to the flu until late February or even early March.
Myth 4: Flu shots protect for many years
Unlike most vaccines, the flu shot should be given annually. Every year the flu virus changes and new vaccines are needed so the body can continue to protect against the flu.
Myth 5: Babies should get flu shots
Although babies under the age of 6 months are at risk of catching the flu, it is not recommended that infants under 6 months get a flu shot. Instead, parents and other members of the family should get vaccinated and lessen the risk of passing the flu to their infant children.
Myth 6: Any and everyone should get a flu shot
Those who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs should not get the flu vaccine. Also, those people who have allergies to any of the other substances in the vaccine should talk to a health professional about whether or not the vaccine is a healthy choice for them. Those people who have had bad reactions to the vaccine in the past should forgo the vaccine now, too.
Myth 7: One flu shot in the season is not enough
One flu shot per flu season is enough to protect an adult against the flu. Only kids 6 months to eight years old who have no previous history of getting the flu shot, should get a second at least four weeks after the first dose.
Myth 8: The flu shot is the only option
There is also the nasal spray that protects against the flu virus. The spray is for healthy people age 2-49 who are not pregnant.
A lot of this information was pulled from CBS News and their article 12 Vaccination Myths Busted.
Related Blog item
From Urban Update
This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week (is there a Hallmark card for that?), which got me wondering whether urban dwellers have better immune systems because they’re exposed to so many people–and germs. After all, a subway car is not too dissimilar to a daycare center: uncovered coughs, shoving, and issues with sharing abound. And we know that in the long term, kids in daycare have stronger immune systems.
Without spending too much time researching this question, I came across an interestingNational Geographic piece that illustrated the impact ancient cities have had on bolstering present-day immunity. At the same time, however, a quick glance at this Google Map tracking the spread of H1N1 reminds us that urban areas were particularly hard-hit.
Moral of the story? Get a flu shot! Find a vaccination location nearby athttp://www.flu.gov/whereyoulive/index.html.
(via a Linked In item by Sandeep Pulim M.D.,Sr. Medical Editor at M3-USA, who is also on Twitter)
New bird flu research that shows that the dangerous virus can mutate to become easily transmissible among ferrets — and perhaps humans — has embroiled the scientific community in a difficult debate.
Some biosecurity experts are concerned the research could be used as a blueprint by nefarious forces and are arguing against publication of the work.
But others, especially influenza scientists, are countering that the flu world needs to know the possible paths the H5N1 virus could take to become one that can spread easily among people so laboratories can be on the lookout for those changes in nature….
2 papers already published
The body does not have the power to bar publication, but it is unclear whether a scientific journal would feel comfortable publishing an article if the group says it should not be placed in the public domain.
It’s also not clear whether the funders of the research — in this case, the U.S. National Institutes of Health — would permit publication if the government’s biosecurity advisers objected to publication of an article.
The controversy relates to several papers, two of which have recently been published and another which is in the publication pipeline.
That latter paper is the one garnering the most concern.
The senior author, virologist Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, won’t talk about the work other than to confirm it is under review by the National Security Advisory Board on Biosecurity.
But Fouchier electrified the flu world in September when he gave an outline of the work at a major influenza conference in Malta.
He told the gathering that in trying to find out whether H5N1 could acquire the ability to spread easily among people, he came up with a virus that spread among ferrets as easily as seasonal flu viruses, according to a report on the meeting in Scientific American.
Scientists caught in Catch-22
Ferrets are considered the best animal model for human infection with influenza. It is feared that a virus that could spread easily among the animals would spread easily among people as well.
H5N1 currently does not transmit easily to people or among people. To date there have been 570 confirmed cases of H5N1 infection in 15 countries and 335 of those people have died.
The other two recently published studies, one by scientists from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and another by scientists at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., both involved engineering viruses with some genes from H5N1 viruses. Both papers were published without being referred to the biosecurity advisory board.
Flu scientists may feel like they are caught in a Catch-22 situation. For years they’ve faced demands from governments anxious to know whether H5N1 could become a human flu virus and what it would take for that to happen.
- Bird flu science too scary to publish, some say (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- Debate rages over new bird flu research; some argue it’s not safe to publish (thestar.com)
- Bird Flu Experiment Rattles Bioterrorism Experts (npr.org)
- Bird Flu Experiment Rattles Bioterrorism Experts (npr.org)
- NIH grantees rebut theory that seasonal flu strains originate in tropical regions (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- Five easy mutations to make bird flu a lethal pandemic (newscientist.com)
- Flu cases up 50% (premierlinedirect.co.uk)
- Where did the bird flu come from (wiki.answers.com)
CDC Issues Initial 2011-2012 Seasonal FluView Report
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released the initial FluView report for the U.S. 2011-2012 flu season with the message that flu activity is currently low, making this the perfect time to get vaccinated.
- CDC issues initial 2011-2012 seasonal “FluView” report-cnbnews.net (gloucestercitynews.net)
- NIH grantees rebut theory that seasonal flu strains originate in tropical regions (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- Flu Season (emilymariec.wordpress.com)
- Annual Childhood Flu Vaccines May Interfere With Development of Crossresistance (jflahiff.wordpress.com)
- More Than 690,000 Americans Have Already Been Vaccinated Against The Flu This Season, SDI Reports – Cdc Supports Expanded Access To Flu Vaccination (prweb.com)
- Flu season is coming. Are you ready? (today.msnbc.msn.com)
- Flu Season is Here – Get Vaccinated Today. (franklinmatters.org)
NIH grantees rebut theory that seasonal flu strains originate in tropical regions
Influenza researchers have found that flu strains migrate back and forth between different regions of the world, evolving along the way. This is contrary to the common belief that flu strains from the tropics are the source of global seasonal epidemics.
The research appeared online on Nov. 14 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was supported in part by the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillanceand the Influenza Genome Sequencing Project, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.
“This study helps us to better understand why the persistence, movement and evolution of flu viruses are complex and largely unpredictable,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “These findings also remind us of the importance of maintaining vigilance in our global influenza surveillance efforts.”
Previous studies had shown that in general, influenza viruses in tropical regions tend to be more varied and circulate year-round rather than seasonally, like flu viruses found in temperate regions with more moderate climates. The prevailing theory had been that tropical areas of the world may be the source of flu viruses from which new seasonal flu strains originate….
none of the seven temperate and tropical regions they examined was the source of all new H3N2 flu strains in a given year. The migration pattern was more complex. Virus strains moved from one region to several others each year, and flu outbreaks were traced back to more than one source. And although the virus that migrated between Southeast Asia and Hong Kong persisted over time, its persistence was caused by the introduction of virus from the temperate regions. Therefore, the tropical regions did not maintain a source for the annual H3N2 influenza epidemics. Further, in contrast to annual flu epidemics in temperate climates, relatively low levels of genetic diversity among flu strains and no seasonal fluctuations were found in the tropical regions.
“We found that the H3N2 influenza virus population is constantly moving between regions, and every region is a potential source for new epidemics,” said Dr. Bahl. “Regions with more connections to others, such as travel centers, may contribute more to the global diversity of circulating viruses.”
The complexity of the global virus circulation found in the study suggests that efforts to control flu should include region-specific strategies, according to the researchers. In future studies, the researchers intend to examine whether the virus behaves differently in temperate and tropical areas, including regions not included in this analysis, and in places that are more or less connected to the rest of the world.
The new findings build on earlier influenza virus evolution research funded in part by NIAID (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/news/newsreleases/2008/Pages/flu_evolution.aspx). For more information about NIAID’s influenza research, visit (http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/Flu/Pages/default.aspx).
- Study finds tropical areas aren’t the only source of seasonal flu (eurekalert.org)
- Flu Season Fed by Globetrotting Viruses (livescience.com)
- Flu cases up 50% (premierlinedirect.co.uk)
- 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu more damaging to lungs, opens opportunities for bacterial infection (eurekalert.org)
- Colds and flu (bupa.com.au)
- A Flu Shot for Your Dog? (abcnews.go.com)
- Any prime-boost mix of injected or spray flu vaccine shields toddlers (eurekalert.org)
- Priming With DNA Vaccine Makes Avian Flu Vaccine Work Better (bioresearchonline.com)
- NIH Scientists Advance Universal Flu Vaccine (bioresearchonline.com)
- Colds and flu (bupa.com.au)
- Global flu watch: Report of rare flu coinfection in Southeast Asia hot spot (medicalxpress.com)
- Swine flu vaccine and pregnancy (bupa.com.au)
Vaccinating children annually against influenza virus interferes with their development of cross-reactive killer T cells to flu viruses generally, according to a paper in the November Journal of Virology.
In this study, first author Rogier Bodewes of Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands and his collaborators collected blood samples from Dutch children with cystic fibrosis, who are vaccinated annually against influenza, and from healthy control children who are not vaccinated, and tested both sets of blood samples for the presence of virus-specific killer T cells. The majority of virus-specific killer T cells are directed to conserved viral proteins, that is, proteins that are very similar among different flu viruses, unlike the rapidly evolving, highly variable proteins which are targets of antibodies induced by influenza vaccines.
In unvaccinated children, the investigators found that the number of virus-specific T cells rises with age, while such an increase was absent in children vaccinated annually. In fact, vaccination appeared to interfere with induction of such killer T cells, says Bodewes….
…The research points up potentially conflicting policy outcomes. Annual flu vaccines are effective against seasonal flu, but could leave people more vulnerable to novel pandemics, says Bodewes, as induction of virus-specific killer T cells caused by childhood flu infection may reduce morbidity and mortality rates from pandemic influenza viruses.
- Flu vaccinations (bupa.com.au)
- The Flu: A Guide For Parents (education.com)
- Colds and flu (bupa.com.au)
- Flu Vaccines and Kids: CDC Tips (children.webmd.com)
- Is the swine flu still around? (zocdoc.com)
- Flu vaccination for children (bupa.com.au)
- Soon, single vaccine to give lifelong protection against all flu strains (news.bioscholar.com)
- Flu Season Is Here- Vaccinate to Protect You and Your Loved Ones from Flu (cdc.gov)
An evaluation of the Public Health Grid (PHGrid) technology during the 2009H1N1 influenza pandemic could enhance the capabilities of epidemiologists and disease-control agencies when the next emergent disease appears, according to a study published in the International Journal of Grid and Utility Computing***. …
…During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, however, the Public Health Informatics and Technology Program Office at the CDC together with various partners used simulated data to explore how a decentralized information architecture run on the Public Health Grid (PHGrid) might be used to acquire relevant data quickly, securely and to effectively model the spread of disease. The main advantage of building the system on the PHGrid is that it allows for disparate, distributed data and services to be used by the public health community and so avoids the obstacles seen with repurposing specialized surveillance systems.
“The speed with which public health officials can identify, respond, and deploy interventions in response to public health events has the potential to change the course or impact of a disease,” the team explains. The PHGrid framework could be used to address specific surveillance needs such as those related to novel pandemic influenza in 2009. By using advances made by the “grid” community in health and other fields, PHGrid was able to focus on specific issues without having to re-invent and re-evaluate the information technology needed by using established data tools and formats. Such an approach also avoided the need to find ways to circumvent bugs and problems that would have arisen had new technology been developed at the time for the specific purpose. …
- Mexican flu pandemic study supports social distancing (eurekalert.org)
- WHO: Swine Flu Pandemic Is Over (zocdoc.com)
- Characterizing the Epidemiology of the 2009 Influenza A/H1N1 Pandemic in Mexico (veilleprosp.wordpress.com)
This bar-headed goose (Anser indicus) was marked with a satellite transmitter at Qinghai Lake, China, in an effort to understand the role that wild birds play in avian influenza. (Credit: Diann Prosser, USGS)
ScienceDaily (Mar. 25, 2011) — Wild migratory birds may indeed play a role in the spread of bird flu, also known as highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1.
A study by the U.S. Geological Survey,[free full text at this link] the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Chinese Academy of Sciences used satellites, outbreak data and genetics to uncover an unknown link in Tibet among wild birds, poultry and the movement of the often-deadly virus.
Researchers attached GPS satellite transmitters to 29 bar-headed geese — a wild species that migrates across most of Asia and that died in the thousands in the 2005 bird flu outbreak in Qinghai Lake, China. GPS data showed that wild geese tagged at Qinghai Lake spend their winters in a region outside of Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, near farms where H5N1 outbreaks have occurred in domestic geese and chickens….
- Chickens bred to thwart bird flu spread (cbc.ca)
- First step at breeding bird-flu resistant chickens (sfgate.com)
- Miyazaki bird flu epidemic spreads (search.japantimes.co.jp)
- “European Scientists Develop Genetically Engineered Chickens Unable To Spread Bird Flu” and related posts (topnews.us)
Existing plans for antiviral and antibiotic use during a severe influenza pandemic could reduce wastewater treatment efficiency prior to discharge into receiving rivers, resulting in water quality deterioration at drinking water abstraction points.
These conclusions are published this week (2 March 2011) in a new paper in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, which reports on a study designed to assess the ecotoxicologic risks of a pandemic influenza medical response.
The research was carried out by a team from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UK), the Institute for Scientific Interchange (Italy), Utrecht University (Netherlands), the University of Sheffield (UK), and Indiana University (USA).
The global public health community closely monitored the unfolding of the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic to best mitigate its impact on society. However, little attention was given to the impact that the medical response might have on the environment.
In order to evaluate this risk, the research team coupled a global spatially-structured epidemic model that simulates the quantities of antiviral and antibiotics used during an influenza pandemic of varying severity, with a water quality model applied to the Thames catchment in southern England to predict their environmental concentrations. An additional model was then used to assess ecotoxicologic effects of antibiotics and antiviral in wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) and rivers.
The research team concluded that, consistent with expectations, a mild pandemic (as in 2009) was projected to exhibit a negligible ecotoxicologic hazard. However in a moderate and severe pandemic nearly all WWTPs (80-100%) were projected to exceed the threshold for microbial growth inhibition, potentially reducing the capacity of the plant to treat wastewater. In addition, a proportion (5-40%) of the River Thames was similarly projected to exceed key thresholds for environmental toxicity, resulting in potential contamination and eutrophication at drinking water abstraction points.
Lead author Dr Andrew Singer, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, “Our results suggest that existing plans for drug use during an influenza pandemic could result in discharge of inefficiently treated wastewater into the UK’s rivers. The potential widespread release of antivirals and antibiotics into the environment may hasten the development of resistant pathogens with implications for human health during and potentially well after the formal end of the pandemic.”
Dr Singer added, “We must develop a better understanding of wastewater treatment plants ecotoxicity before the hazards posed by a pandemic influenza medical response can be reliably assessed. However, the production and successful distribution of pre-pandemic and pandemic influenza vaccines could go a long way towards alleviating all of the identified environmental and human health problems highlighted in our paper, with the significant added benefit of reducing morbidity and mortality of the UK population. This latter challenge of vaccination is probably society’s greatest challenge, but also where the greatest gains can be made.”
Another reason to get a flu shot (especially young adults)…….
On November 19, Jason Martin returned to the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for the first time since he nearly died there during last year’s H1N1 flu pandemic. The tall and burly Warren County, TN, ambulance worker – a 30-year-old, father of three young children – broke down and hugged some of the nurses he recognized.
“I got sick on September 12 and didn’t come out of it for the next 20 days. I am just so grateful I came through,” Martin said, wiping his eyes.
Martin was among the first wave of critically ill middle Tennesseans, hit hard by the H1N1 flu pandemic in late 2009. A hallmark of pandemic flu throughout history, including the H1N1 pandemic, has been its ability to make healthy young and middle-aged adults seriously ill and even kill this population in disproportionate numbers.
In a paper published Dec. 5 in Nature Medicine, Fernando Polack, M.D., the Cesar Milstein Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Vanderbilt, and colleagues in Argentina and Nashville provide a possible explanation for this alarming phenomenon of pandemic flu. The study’s findings suggest people are made critically ill, or even killed, by their own immune response…
“We have seen this before. Where non-protective antibody responses are associated with an immune-based disease in the lung,” Polack said.
Polack has previously published evidence that a first-line immune response, primed by an imperfect antibody, can overreact in a violent and uncontrolled fashion. Patients die from lung damage inflicted by their own immune system. A molecule called C4d, a product of this biochemical cascade (the complement system), is a marker for the strength of the response.
In adults who died during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, high levels of C4d in lung tissues suggest a massive, potentially fatal activation of the complement system.
Pulmonary and critical care physician, Todd Rice, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine at VUMC, has seen people killed by the “exuberant” and uncontrolled response of the immune system in other diseases – like sepsis….
While many questions remain, one thing is clear: the H1N1 vaccine offers protection. Patients who died were overwhelmingly unvaccinated. Many fell ill before a vaccine was even available. [Editor Flahiff's empahsis]
Vaccine partnership between Australia and Indonesia
A University of Adelaide researcher is leading a collaboration between Australia and Indonesia on the production of a universal flu vaccine.
“The frequent arising of new influenza strains represents the greatest challenge to health authorities as it renders currently available vaccines ineffective,” says Dr Mohammed Alsharifi, the Head of the Vaccine Research Group at the School of Molecular and Biomedical Science, University of Adelaide.
“While annual vaccine reformulation appears to be effective against closely matched strains of influenza, the current method is not effective against drifted strains as well as new pandemic strains, as illustrated by the recent H1N1 pandemic. This raises the need for a new technology,” he says.
Dr Alsharifi says the recent experience of swine flu and the continuing fears of the medical, scientific and world health communities of the sudden emergence of a deadly bird flu strain, means that a new approach to flu vaccines needs to be contemplated.
“What we need is some protection against all influenza virus A strains, including any emergent pandemic virus,” he says…
“What we need is some protection against all influenza virus A strains, including any emergent pandemic virus,” he says.
A new technology, invented by Dr Alsharifi (University of Adelaide) and Professor Arno Müllbacher (Australian National University), has helped to generate a new influenza vaccine – GammaFlu™ – that provides cross-protection against current influenza viruses as well as any other unknown strains that may arise in the future.
“Our technology is expected to change the world of vaccination, as it can be implemented to produce many other vaccines,” Dr Alsharifi says.
To translate their basic scientific discoveries into clinical application, both scientists established the company Gamma Vaccines Pty Ltd in July 2009. Gamma Vaccines is now commercializing its gamma-irradiated influenza vaccine to capture part of the global market for flu vaccines, which is estimated at US$4 billion annually….
Hospital Preparedness Checklist for Pandemic Influenza (with a 2009 focus) aims to help “enhance the readiness of the health facilities to cope with the challenges of an epidemic, a pandemic or any other emergency or disaster, hospital managers need to ensure the initiation of relevant generic priority action. [The document] aims to provide a checklist of the key action to carry out in the context of a continuous hospital emergency preparedness process.”
This 32 page PDF document includes checklists in the areas of incident command, communication, continuity of essential services, surge capacity, human resources, logistics, and supply management (including pharmaceuticals), infection prevention and control, case management, surveillance, and laboratory services.
By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The H1N1 swine flu virus may be starting to mutate, and a slightly new form has begun to predominate in Australia, New Zealand and Singapore, researchers reported on Thursday.
More study is needed to tell whether the new strain is more likely to kill patients and whether the current vaccine can protect against it completely, said Ian Barr of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, Australia and colleagues.
“However, it may represent the start of more dramatic antigenic drift of the pandemic influenza A(H1N1) viruses that may require a vaccine update sooner than might have been expected,” they wrote in the online publication Eurosurveillance.
It is possible it is both more deadly and also able to infect people who have been vaccinated, they said.
Flu viruses mutate constantly — this is why people need a fresh flu vaccine every year. Since it broke out in March 2009 and spread globally, the H1N1 swine flu virus has been very stable with almost no mutation….
“The virus has changed little since it emerged in 2009, however, in this report we describe several genetically distinct changes in the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus,” Barr’s team wrote in the report, available at http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=19692.
“These variants were first detected in Singapore in early 2010 and have subsequently spread through Australia and New Zealand.”
The changes are not significant yet, they said. But there have been some cases of people who were vaccinated also becoming infected, and also some deaths.
“Already this variant virus has been associated with several vaccine breakthroughs in teenagers and adults vaccinated in 2010 with monovalent pandemic influenza vaccine (protecting against only H1N1) as well as a number of fatal cases from whom the variant virus was isolated,” they wrote.
But there is not enough information to tell whether there may have been other factors making the patients more vulnerable, they stressed.
“It remains to be seen whether this variant will continue to predominate for the rest of the influenza season in Oceania and in other parts of the southern hemisphere and then spread to the northern hemisphere or merely die out,” they wrote.
A few good resources to keep up with H1N1 news
- Flu.gov is a “comprehensive government-wide information on seasonal, H1N1 (swine), H5N1 (bird) and pandemic influenza for the general public, health and emergency preparedness professionals, policy makers, government and business leaders, school systems, and local communities”
Flu.gov includes an option for email updates, printable fact sheets and other printable resources, news articles, FAQs, and much more
- Influenza (World Health Organization)
From a PH(Public Health)_Partners Oct 8, 2010 Listserv item
Ongoing, publicly available collection of news stories about pubic health issues facing communities across the nation. News clips are searchable by state or in the following subject areas: budget cuts, County Health Rankings, H1N1, goods news, and more.
A few recent items
“Reports of pertussis have reached startling numbers in communities around the nation in recent months, leading to
renewed attention to the common infectious disease. Several states are currently reporting pertussis outbreaks, from California to Michigan to South Carolina…”
Have a minute? Click here for a short video on getting ready for flu season.
MedlinePlus (a gold mine of trusted health information) has additional flu related information at Childhood Immunization and Flu. Also, consider visiting flu.gov for a wealth of current influenza information gathered from many branches of the US federal government.
A related article
Considering the Nasal Flu Vaccine?Some people shouldn’t get it, experts say (Health Day)
The American Academy of Family Physicians, however, says not everyone is a candidate for the nasal vaccine. The academy says the following people should talk with their doctor before getting the spray:
Children under age 2, or adults 50 and older.
Anyone with a chronic health problem or a compromised immune system.
Children or teens who take long-term aspirin therapy.
Anyone who has heart, kidney or lung disease, or diabetes.
Women who are pregnant.
Anyone who has had Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Anyone who has had an allergic reaction from a flu vaccine, or who is allergic to eggs.
Currently, only about 40% of health care workers get annual flu vaccinations. However immunization rates of about 80% are needed for effective “herd immunity” to effectively control flu transmission by health care workers.
The Committee on Infectious Diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued this policy statement which will appear in the October issue of the journal Pediatrics.
“Mandatory influenza immunization for all health-care personnel is ethically justified, necessary, and long overdue to ensure patient safety,”…..They offered a number of examples of the effectiveness of mandatory flu vaccination policies. The Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle achieved a 99 percent compliance rate after it made influenza vaccination mandatory in 2005. The compliance rate was 100 percent after the U.S. National Institutes of Health Clinical Center made flu vaccination mandatory for employees who had contact with patients.