Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release] Breakthrough may impact flu vaccination

Breakthrough may impact flu vaccination 

SINGAPORE, January 20, 2015 — An analysis of 10 years’ worth of data on human influenza B viruses has shed new light on the pathogen which can cause the seasonal flu. Findings from this study could help make flu immunization programs more effective; by better targeting vaccines or by eventually eliminating one of the flu lineages completely.

What are Influenza B viruses?

Influenza epidemics seriously affect populations worldwide, with an estimated three to five million cases of severe illness and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths, yearly. Four influenza virus lineages co-circulate in the human population to cause seasonal epidemics. Of the four, two are influenza A and two are influenza B virus lineages, named Victoria and Yamagata. To date, most studies have focused on the influenza A virus lineages because they are the more commonly circulating lineages in humans which have also caused occasional pandemics.

Diagram of antigenic shift vs antigenic drift ...

Diagram of antigenic shift vs antigenic drift in influenza virus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A new study, led by Assistant Professor Vijay Dhanasekaran and Associate Professor Gavin Smith from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School (Duke-NUS), has presented the largest comparative analysis of human influenza B viruses undertaken to date. Results were achieved using advanced computational methodologies to analyze genomic data of the pathogen taken from human hosts. Significantly, this study is also the first to integrate demographic information such as the host’s age.

Findings offer new insight into the evolution and epidemiology of this highly infectious virus, and reveal how the two influenza B virus lineages fundamentally differ from each other and from the influenza A virus lineages.

Flu Vaccine Implications

“Our research shows that school aged children are more susceptible than adults to influenza B virus lineages, especially the Victoria lineage,” explained first author Asst Prof Dhanasekaran from the Emerging Infectious Diseases Program at Duke-NUS. “This younger population should be targeted for the use of the quadrivalent influenza vaccines.”

Commonly administered influenza vaccines are generally composed of two influenza A lineage viruses – but only one influenza B lineage virus. Recently, quadrivalent influenza vaccines, which target all four lineages, have been approved for use. However, they are significantly more difficult to prepare, more expensive and have limited availability. This new study shows that it may be important to use these vaccines for a specific population.

….

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Breakthrough may impact flu vaccination

The various strains of influenza that have inf...

The various strains of influenza that have infected the human population in the 20th century. Data taken from figure 2 of Palese P (December 2004). “Influenza: old and new threats”. Nat. Med. 10 (12 Suppl) : S82–7. DOI:10.1038/nm1141. PMID 15577936. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Breakthrough may impact flu vaccination

Excerpts from the 20 January 2015 Duke University press release

SINGAPORE, January 20, 2015 — An analysis of 10 years’ worth of data on human influenza B viruses has shed new light on the pathogen which can cause the seasonal flu. Findings from this study could help make flu immunization programs more effective; by better targeting vaccines or by eventually eliminating one of the flu lineages completely.

What are Influenza B viruses?

Influenza epidemics seriously affect populations worldwide, with an estimated three to five million cases of severe illness and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths, yearly. Four influenza virus lineages co-circulate in the human population to cause seasonal epidemics. Of the four, two are influenza A and two are influenza B virus lineages, named Victoria and Yamagata. To date, most studies have focused on the influenza A virus lineages because they are the more commonly circulating lineages in humans which have also caused occasional pandemics.

A new study, led by Assistant Professor Vijay Dhanasekaran and Associate Professor Gavin Smith from Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School (Duke-NUS), has presented the largest comparative analysis of human influenza B viruses undertaken to date. Results were achieved using advanced computational methodologies to analyze genomic data of the pathogen taken from human hosts. Significantly, this study is also the first to integrate demographic information such as the host’s age.

Findings offer new insight into the evolution and epidemiology of this highly infectious virus, and reveal how the two influenza B virus lineages fundamentally differ from each other and from the influenza A virus lineages.

Flu Vaccine Implications

“Our research shows that school aged children are more susceptible than adults to influenza B virus lineages, especially the Victoria lineage,” explained first author Asst Prof Dhanasekaran from the Emerging Infectious Diseases Program at Duke-NUS. “This younger population should be targeted for the use of the quadrivalent influenza vaccines.”

January 22, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , | Leave a comment

[Press Release] A milestone in protection from influenza

A milestone in protection from influenza.

From the 17 June 2014 HHS press release

A statement from Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Director and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) Robin Robinson, Ph.D.

This week, our nation reached a milestone in battling influenza, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s first approval to manufacture seasonal influenza vaccine using cell-based technology in a U.S. facility. That facility, owned by Novartis of Basel, Switzerland, and located in Holly Springs, N.C., now can manufacture cell-based vaccine against seasonal as well as pandemic influenza viruses. This new capability demonstrates the effectiveness of a multi-use approach to emergency preparedness.

…..

 

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Early Estimates of Seasonal Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness — United States, January 2013

Vaccination; 041028-N-9864S-021 Yokosuka, Japa...

Vaccination; 041028-N-9864S-021 Yokosuka, Japan (Oct. 28, 2004) – Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Tiffany Long of San Diego, Calif., administers the influenza vaccination to a crew member aboard USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Currently in port, Kitty Hawk demonstrates power projection and sea control as the U.S. Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, operating from Yokosuka, Japan. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Joseph R Schmitt (RELEASED) (Photo credit: Wikipedi

On January 11, 2013, this report was posted as an MMWR Early Release on the MMWR website (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr)

In the United States, annual vaccination against seasonal influenza is recommended for all persons aged ≥6 months (1). Each season since 2004–05, CDC has estimated the effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccine to prevent influenza-associated, medically attended acute respiratory infection (ARI).

This season, early data from 1,155 children and adults with ARI enrolled during December 3, 2012–January 2, 2013 were used to estimate the overall effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccine for preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection associated with medically attended ARI.

After adjustment for study site, but not for other factors, the estimated vaccine effectiveness (VE) was 62% (95% confidence intervals [CIs] = 51%–71%). This interim estimate indicates moderate effectiveness, and is similar to a summary VE estimate from a meta-analysis of randomized controlled clinical trial data (2); final estimates likely will differ slightly.

As of January 11, 2013, 24 states and New York City were reporting high levels of influenza-like illness, 16 states were reporting moderate levels, five states were reporting low levels, and one state was reporting minimal levels (3). CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices routinely recommend that annual influenza vaccination efforts continue as long as influenza viruses are circulating (1). Persons aged ≥6 months who have not yet been vaccinated this season should be vaccinated.

However, these early VE estimates underscore that some vaccinated persons will become infected with influenza; therefore, antiviral medications should be used as recommended for treatment in patients, regardless of vaccination status. In addition, these results highlight the importance of continued efforts to develop more effective vaccines……

January 19, 2013 Posted by | Consumer Health, Health Statistics | , | Leave a comment

The Compelling Need for Game-Changing Influenza Vaccines: An Analysis of the Influenza Vaccine Enterprise and Recommendations for the Future

English: This is CDC Clinic Chief Nurse Lee An...

English: This is CDC Clinic Chief Nurse Lee Ann Jean-Louis extracting Influenza Virus Vaccine, Fluzone® from a 5 ml. vial. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

From the 11 December 2012 summary at Full Text Reports

 

….The ongoing public health burden caused by seasonal influenza and the potential global effect of a severe pandemic create an urgent need for a new generation of highly effective and cross-protective vaccines that can be manufactured rapidly. A universal vaccine should be the goal, with a novel-antigen game-changing vaccine the minimum requirement…

 

 

December 16, 2012 Posted by | Public Health | , , , | Leave a comment

Busting Common Myths about the Flu Vaccine

From the 8 October 2012 article at Nationwide’s Children

With cold and flu season upon us, many companies have geared up for what is predicted to be a busy flu season producing 150 million doses of the influenza vaccine, up 17 million from last year.

“This is a pretty busy time around here,” said Dennis Cunningham, MD  a physician in Infectious Diseases at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Our emergency department, urgent care centers and our inpatient numbers always go up because of the flu, although many of those patients could avoid getting sick by practicing just a few simple precautions.”

Dr. Cunningham, also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, said that part of the problem is many people buy into the long-held myths about the flu vaccine and miss opportunities to avoid getting sick. He says following about some of the most common myths:

Myth: You can actually catch the flu from the flu vaccine.
“This is probably the most common myth out there, but it’s simply not true,” said Dr. Cunningham. “The vaccine can give you some mild symptoms, you may feel a bit achy and your arm may be a little tender where you first get the shot. But that’s actually a good thing and shows that the vaccine is working. It tells us your body is responding appropriately to the vaccine.”

Dr. Cunningham said that nobody should confuse a few slight symptoms with the actual flu. The vaccine may leave you feeling a bit warm or achy for a day or two, but with true influenza, someone is sick and in bed for a week with high fever.

It is especially important for children to get the flu shot, or flu mist, which works just as well. Because children are around so many people – from peers to teachers, siblings to adults and grandparents – children are the biggest carriers of the flu  and giving them the vaccine can protect a wide range of people.

Myth: You should wait until it is cold outside to get your flu vaccine.
“Some people are worried that if you get the vaccine too soon, it will wear off by the time winter gets here,” said Dr. Cunningham. “The truth is vaccinating people even in August will protect them throughout the entire flu season. This also includes the elderly who typically have been the group people are most worried about.”

Myth: The flu is only spread by sneezing.  
“Germs are pretty easy to pass around and flu is really contagious,” said Dr. Cunningham. “It’s very easy for one child to give it to another child and the next thing you know, they bring it home.”

Because of that, experts say it is important to wash and sanitize your hands often during flu season, and urge children to do the same. The easiest way is to use hand gels, but make sure they contain at least 65 to 95 percent alcohol. If soap and water are nearby, that is even better for protecting against germs. Wash often and lather up. Make sure to completely rinse your hands in order to get the soap and germs off.

Myth: Flu vaccines do not protect you from current strains.  
From the H1N1 scare in 2009 to swine flu and the bird flu, each year it seems there is a new strain making headlines. But researchers track the most recent, most dangerous strains, and work to stay one step ahead of it.

“The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pick the strains they think are most likely to circulate in the coming months so that people are protected against everything that may go around,” said Dr. Cunningham. “Every year there are two A strains and one B strain of influenza included in the vaccine.”

The vaccine may leave you feeling a bit warm or achy for a day or two, but with true influenza, someone is sick and in bed for a week with high fever.

Watch Dr. Dennis Cunningham, infectious disease specialist, explain the truth about some common myths about the flu vaccine.

  • Onset of Flu Season Raises Concerns About Human-To-Pet Transmission(ScienceDaily)

    This concept, called “reverse zoonosis,” is still poorly understood but has raised concern among some scientists and veterinarians, who want to raise awareness and prevent further flu transmission to pets. About 80-100 million households in the United States have a cat or dog.

             This concept, called “reverse zoonosis,” is still poorly understood but has raised concern among some scientists and veterinarians, who want to raise awareness and prevent further flu transmission to pets. About 80-100 million households in the United States have a cat or dog

October 10, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health | , , , | Leave a comment

Pitt researchers propose new model to design better flu shots

From the 22 December Eureka news alert

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….

Read the entire news article

Related Resources

  • Flu (MedlinePlus) with links to overviews, basic information, health check tools, research articles, and more

    Flu.gov

  • 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

 

December 23, 2011 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Flu – How To Stop It!

 

Person washing his hands

Image via Wikipedia

From the 8 December 2011 Medical News Today article

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. 
….

 

December 8, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Public Health | , , | Leave a comment

8 *BUSTED* Myths About Flu Vaccines — From The [Boston] Mayor’s Health Line Blog

8 *BUSTED* Myths About Flu Vaccines « The Mayor’s Health Line Blog

From the Boston Mayor’s Health Line Blog

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

Is city living good for your immune system?

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.

December 7, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

CDC Issues Initial 2011-2012 Seasonal FluView Report

Business/Employers Influenza Toolkit

CDC Issues Initial 2011-2012 Seasonal FluView Report
http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2011/p1014_fluview_report.html
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.

November 20, 2011 Posted by | Consumer Health, Public Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

Annual Childhood Flu Vaccines May Interfere With Development of Crossresistance

From the 17 November Science Daily article

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.

Read the article

 

November 17, 2011 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News, Public Health | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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