Category Archives: Flu
Flu season in the United States typically runs from November through March, with the peak coming in January and February. But people can catch the flu both earlier than the usual start time and after the usual end of the season. In addition, the severity of the flu season can vary with from 3,000 to 49,000 U.S. deaths in a given year, an average of more than 200,000 hospitalizations and millions of illnesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Flu shot season has a shorter time table, so many pharmacies and doctors’ office that are well stocked at the moment can run out before Christmas, making it difficult for people who put off their vaccinations to find a vaccine location and protect themselves.
And despite a yearly campaign to get people to roll their arms up, less fewer than half of adults and less than 60 percent of kids received a flu shot last year. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Carolyn Bridges, MD, the CDC’s associate director for adult immunizations about what keeps people from getting the flu shot and how more people can be encouraged to get the vaccine.
NewPublicHealth: What is it that keeps people from getting the shot?
Carolyn Bridges: I think there are a number of things. Certainly, we have pretty good awareness about the recommendations for the influenza vaccine, although some people may just not realize that they are potentially at risk. The current recommendations call for all persons six months of age and older to get an annual flu vaccine, with rare exceptions. But the vaccine recommendations have changed over time and in the last few years have been broadened to include [just about] everyone. For some people the message hasn’t gotten to them that in fact they are now included in the group recommended for a yearly flu vaccine
NPH: What common misconceptions do people still have about the flu vaccine?
Bridges: In terms of the safety, some people question or are worried about getting the flu from the flu vaccine. That’s still a common comment that we receive. Sometimes people will certainly have body aches or some tenderness in the arm where they get their flu vaccine, but that’s certainly not the same as getting influenza, and those symptoms generally are very self-limited and go away within two to three days. But the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu.
EBOLA UPDATE: Texas Ebola Patient Came into Contact with at Least 80 People; Second Man Being Monitored
The known number of people who came into contact with the Ebola patient being treated in Texas—now identified as Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia—has climbed from 18 to at least 80, according to Dallas Health Director Zack Thompson. Duncan, who is in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, is the first person to be diagnosed with the disease in the United States. Several members of his family are under a “control order” to stay inside their homes. Texas health authorities are also monitoring a second potential Ebola patient. Read more on Ebola.
HHS: Two Contracts to Improve Earlier, More Accurate Flu Diagnosis
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) has issued two contracts to help improve doctors’ abilities to diagnose influenza cases sooner and more accurately. One contract is for 3.5 years and worth $12.9 million, while the other is a two-year, $7.9 million contract that could expand to a $14.7-million contract over four years. “Administering fast and inexpensive tests at the point of care has tangible benefits to personal and public health, particularly in helping doctors prescribe the right therapy immediately,” said Robin Robinson, PhD, director of ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, in a release. “Prescribing medication or other therapies in a more targeted way is good stewardship and will be critical to reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance.” Read more on influenza.
Health Officials: 500 Confirmed Cases of Enterovirus D68 in 42 States and the District of Columbia
There have now been more than 500 confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68 in forty-two states and the District of Columbia since the severe respiratory illness first began infecting children during the summer. While four patients have died in the past several weeks, health officials are still unsure whether the virus is linked to the deaths. They are also working to determine whether 10 cases of children with muscle weakness and even paralysis are due to the virus. Read more on infectious disease.
EBOLA UPDATE: Sierre Leone on Three-Day Lockdown
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Today the nation of Sierra Leone began a three-day lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the Ebola virus. "Today, the life of everyone is at stake, but we will get over this difficulty if all do what we have been asked to do," said President Ernest Bai Koroma. "These are extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary measures." The ongoing outbreak has so far killed at least 2,630 people and infected a total of 5,357 people. Read more on Ebola.
FDA Revises Proposed Rules to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses
Taking into account the public comments stemming from its extensive outreach, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued revisions to four proposed rules designed to promote food safety and help prevent foodborne illness. The rules include produce safety, preventive controls for human food, preventive controls for animal food and the foreign supplier verification program. “Ensuring a safe and high-quality food supply is one of the FDA’s highest priorities, and we have worked very hard to gather and respond to comments from farmers and other stakeholders regarding the major proposed FSMA regulations,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “The FDA believes these updated proposed rules will lead to a modern, science-based food safety system that will better protect American consumers from potentially hazardous food. We look forward to public comment on these proposals.” Read more on food safety.
CDC: Too Many Americans Don’t Receive a Flu Vaccination
At a news conference this morning, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden, MD, stressed the need for all people ages 6 months and older to be vaccinated for the upcoming flu season. According to the CDC, fewer than half of eligible Americans get vaccinations resulting in unnecessary lost work days, hospitalizations and even death. "It's really unfortunate that half of Americans are not getting the protection from flu they could get," said Frieden, according to HealthDay. More than 100 children died from the flu-relate complications last year, and approximately 90 percent of them were unvaccinated. Read more on influenza.
Mandatory Policies Increase Flu Shot Rates for Health Care Workers
Hospitals can improve their flu vaccination rate among health care workers by using a mandatory employee vaccination policy, according to a study by researchers at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. At Henry Ford, getting the flu shot is a condition of employment and the health system now has a 99 percent compliance rate. Nationally, only 63 percent of health care workers were immunized against the flu in the past two years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which poses a risk to patients. The study was presented this weekend at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Washington D.C.
Before making flu vaccination mandatory, the vaccination rate at Henry Ford was between 41 percent and 55 percent. An increasing number of health systems are making flu shots mandatory for employees. At Henry Ford, employees can opt out for religious or medical reasons so long as they have documentation from clergy or a physician and then must take other precautions against the flu, such as wearing a mask when caring for patients.
Many doctors’ offices, pharmacies and clinics already have the flu shot on hand for the upcoming flu season. The HealthMap flu shot locator has been updated for the 2014-2015 flu season.
Read more on the flu.
Study: Alcohol Ad Reminders to “Drink Responsibly” Promote Drinking
A new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health finds that magazine ads from the alcohol industry that advise readers to “drink responsibly” or “enjoy in moderation” fail to convey important information about dangers associated with alcohol consumption.
The study, published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, analyzed all alcohol ads that appeared in U.S. magazines from 2008 to 2010 to determine whether messages about responsibility define responsible drinking or provide clear warnings about the risks associated with alcohol consumption.
According to the study, 87 percent of the ads analyzed included a responsibility message, but none actually defined responsible drinking or promoted abstinence at particular times or in certain situations. When responsibility messages were accompanied by a product tagline or slogan, the messages were displayed in smaller font than the company’s tagline or slogan 95 percent of the time.
Responsibility statements are voluntary and are also frequently included in ads appearing in other media including radio and online ads. The researchers say more effective ads would have prominently placed tested warning messages that directly address behaviors and that do not reinforce marketing messages. “We know from experience with tobacco that warning messages on product containers and in advertising can affect consumption of potentially dangerous products,” say Katherine Clegg Smith, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a lead author of the study. “We should apply that [tobacco ad] knowledge to alcohol ads and provide real warnings about the negative effects of excessive alcohol use.”
Read more on alcohol.
NYC Health Department Investigating Meningitis Outbreak among HIV Positive Men
The New York City Health Department is currently investigating a cluster of meningitis cases among HIV-positive men who have sex with men. Three cases of meningitis have occurred in Brooklyn and Queens since August 24, with the last two cases reported since early September.
Meningitis is a severe bacterial infection that has a high fatality rate. A previous outbreak of the disease among men who have sex with men ended in February 2013 after 22 cases were reported, including seven fatal cases.
The Health Department recommends meningitis vaccination for all HIV-positive men who have sex with men. Meningitis vaccinations are also recommended for men, regardless of HIV status, who regularly have intimate contact with other men met through a website, digital application (“app”), or at a bar or party.
People living with HIV are at a greater risk than the general population of acquiring meningitis and, if infected, dying from infection. This disease is spread by prolonged close contact with nose or throat discharges from an infected person.
Read more on sexual health.
Workers with Access to Natural Light Sleep Longer and Better
Natural light in the workplace improves overall health, according to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Researchers from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that employees with windows received 173 percent more white light exposure during an average work day and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. They also engaged in more physical activity and reported a better overall quality of life. “There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day—particularly in the morning—is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism,” said senior study author Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, a Northwestern Medicine neurologist and sleep specialist, in a release. “Workers are a group at risk because they are typically indoors often without access to natural or even artificial bright light for the entire day. The study results confirm that light during the natural daylight hours has powerful effects on health.” Read more on environment.
Public Transportation to Work Linked to Healthier Weights
Public transportation should potentially be added to what we think of as “active commuting” modes because of its related health benefits, according to a new study on TheBMJ.com. People who go to work on public transportation tend to be thinner than people who drive their own cars, according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University College London. The findings are based on data from 7,424 people in the United Kingdom on how much body fat they had and from 7,534 people on their body mass index. “It seems to suggest switching your commute mode—where you can build in just a bit of incidental physical activity—you may be able to cut down on your chance of being overweight and achieve a healthier body composition as well,” said study leader Ellen Flint, according to Reuters. Read more on physical activity.
ACOG: All Pregnant Women Should Receive a Flu Shot
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is now recommending that all pregnant women, no matter how far along they are in the pregnancy, should be vaccinated against influenza. During the 2009-2010 flu season the immunization rate for pregnant women was 50 percent; prior to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic it was only 15 percent. According to the college, flu prevention is “an essential element of preconception, prenatal, and postpartum care” because of immune system changes during the pregnancy and the added need to protect the fetus. “The flu virus is highly infectious and can be particularly dangerous to pregnant women, as it can cause pneumonia, premature labor, and other complications, “ said Laura Riley, MD, chair of the College’s Immunization Expert Work Group, which developed the Committee Opinion in conjunction with the College’s Committee on Obstetric Practice. “Vaccination every year, early in the season and regardless of the stage of pregnancy, is the best line of defense.” Read more on maternal and infant health.
CDC: Two U.S. MERS-CoV Cases Did Not Spread Any Further
In May of this year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced two cases of imported Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the United States, with one in Florida and the other in Indiana. Both patients were health care providers who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia. The CDC has now confirmed that in neither case did the disease spread to either members of the patients’ households or health care workers who treated the patients. “The negative results among the contacts that CDC considered at highest risk for MERS-CoV infection are reassuring.” said David Swerdlow, MD, who is leading CDC’s MERS-CoV response. “Today, the risk of MERS-CoV infection in the United States remains low, but it is important that we remain vigilant and quickly identify and respond to any additional importations.” Read more on infectious disease.
FDA Approves the Manufacture of Cell-based Influenza Vaccine
Yesterday the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced approval to manufacture the first cell-based seasonal influenza vaccine in a U.S. facility. The Holly Springs, N.C., facility, which is owned by the Swiss company Novartis, will also be capable of manufacturing vaccines against pandemic influenza viruses. The technology was created in partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. According to a statement from Robin Robinson, PhD, ASPR Director and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the cell-based vaccines will be part of multi-use approach that “strengthens everyday systems and increases our resilience in emergencies.” Read more on influenza.
Study Links Air Pollution, Cognitive Decline in Older Adults
One way to help reduce age-related cognitive decline may be to reduce air pollution, according to a new study in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. Researchers determined that older adults who live in areas with low concentrations of fine particulate matter air pollution—from sources such as vehicle exhaust—made fewer cognitive errors on math and memory tests than did older adults who lived in areas with high pollution levels. “Although finding a link between the air we breathe on a daily basis and our long-term brain health is alarming, the good news is that we have made remarkable progress in the last decade in reducing levels of air pollution across the country, and there are efforts underway to further reduce air pollution,” said study co-author Jennifer Ailshire, of the Center for Biodemography and Population Health and the Andrus Gerontology Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Read more on aging.
Faster Mass Vaccination Response Could Save Lives, Costs in a Flu Pandemic
A faster response of mass vaccinations after the start of a severe flu outbreak would save both lives and health care costs, according to a new study in Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers created a computer model of a how an outbreak of H7N9 or H5N1 would affect a U.S. metropolitan city with characteristics similar to New York City, depending on when public health officials were able to vaccinate 30 percent of the population. They determined that reaching that vaccination target in 12 months would mean 48,254 persons would die; at 9 months would save an additional 2,365 lives; at 6 months would save an additional 5,775 lives and $51 million at a city level; and at 4 months would save an additional 5,633 lives and $50 million. Read more on the flu.
Study: Current Weight at 25 a Better Indicator of Later Obesity Risk than Duration of Obesity
In a study of the relationship between body mass index (BMI) at age 25, obesity later in life and biological indicators of health, researchers determined current weight—and not the duration of obesity—was a more effective indicator of cardiovascular and metabolic risk, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. They did also note that people who were obese by age 25 were in fact at higher risk of more severe obesity later in life. Using data from the 1999-2010 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the study found that men who were obese at age 25 had a 23.1 percent estimated probability of class III obesity (BMI greater than 40) after age 35, compared to a 1.1 percent chance for men of a normal weight at age 25. For women who were obese at age 25 the risk of later class III obesity was 46.9 percent, compared to only 4.8 percent for women of a normal weight. “This is good news in some respects, as overweight and obese young adults who can prevent additional weight gain can expect their biological risk factors to be no worse than those who reach the same level of BMI later in life,” said study lead author Jennifer B. Dowd, MD, associate professor, epidemiology and biostatistics, City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health, Hunter College. Read more on obesity.
Higher High School GPAs Linked to Greater Earnings in Adulthood
A one-point increase in high school grade point average (GPA) can raise annual earnings in adulthood by approximately 12 percent for men and 14 percent for women, according to a new study in the Eastern Economic Journal. Researchers also determined that a 1-point increase in GPA increased the likelihood of completing college from 21 percent to 42 percent for both genders. “Conventional wisdom is that academic performance in high school is important for college admission, but this is the first study to clearly demonstrate the link between high school GPA and labor market earnings many years later,” said Michael T. French, director of the Health Economics Research Group (HERG) in the Department of Sociology at the UM College of Arts and Sciences, and corresponding author of the study, adding, “High school guidance counselors and teachers can use these findings to highlight the importance of doing well in high school for both short term (college admission) and longer term (earnings as an adult) goals.” Read more on education.
Flu Vaccine Reduces Risk of Child’s Flu-Related ICU Hospitalization by 74 Percent
Receiving a flu vaccine dramatically reduces a child’s risk of flu-related intensive care hospitalization, according to a new study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed the medical records of 216 children age 6 months through 17 years admitted to 21 pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) in the United States during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 flu seasons, finding that the a flu vaccination reduces the risk of being admitted to a PICU by 74 percent. “These study results underscore the importance of an annual flu vaccination, which can keep your child from ending up in the intensive care unit,” said Alicia Fry, MD, a medical officer in CDC’s Influenza Division. “It is extremely important that all children—especially children at high risk of flu complications—are protected from what can be a life-threatening illness." Kids younger than 5 and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or developmental delays are at especially high risk of serious flu complications. Read more on influenza.
CDC Releases Expansive Salmonella Report for Researchers
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released an expansive, first-of-its kind report charting the past four decades of laboratory-confirmed surveillance data on 32 Salmonella serotypes. An Atlas of Salmonella in the United States, 1968-2011, includes data and analysis by age, sex, season and geography down to the county level. The report is available both online and in a downloadable format. Salmonella causes an estimated 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths each year in the United States. “We hope these data allow researchers and others to assess what has happened and to think more about how we can reduce Salmonella infections in the future,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “The more we understand Salmonella, the more we can make progress in fighting it all along the farm to table chain.” Read more on research.
GlaxoSmithKline Recalling Alli Non-Prescription Weight-Loss Drug Amid Reports of Tampering
GlaxoSmithKline is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in recalling all supplies of its non-prescription weight-loss drug Alli in the United States and Puerto Rico, after reports that some bottles had been tampered with and may not contain authentic Alli. The drug comes in a turquoise-blue capsule, but the company has received inquiries from consumers in seven U.S. states about bottles containing a range of tablets and capsules of various shapes and colors. Read more on safety.
EPA Sets Cleaner Fuel and Car Standards to Cut Air Pollution and Improve Health
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized emission standards for cars and gasoline to significantly reduce harmful pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and illnesses. According to the EPA, the new standards will also create efficiency improvements for cars and trucks. The standards go into effect by 2017.
The new standards cut emissions of a range of harmful pollutants that can cause premature death and respiratory illnesses. By 2030, EPA estimates that up to 2,000 premature deaths; 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children; 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits; and 1.4 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution will be prevented. Total health-related benefits in 2030 will be between $6.7 and $19 billion annually.
The program will also reduce exposure to pollution near roads. More than 50 million people live, work, or go to school in close proximity to high-traffic roadways, and the average American spends more than one hour traveling along roads each day. Read more on environment.
Study Finds Many Parents Support Flu Shots at School
Half of parents in the United States would agree to have their children get their flu shots at school, according to a survey from the Brown School of Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. Researchers at the school conducted a nationally representative online survey of more than 1,000 parents of school-aged children. Convenience was the chief reason for parents supporting flu shots at school. Thirty two percent of parents surveyed were not sure if they would consent to giving the shots at school and 17 percent said they would not consent. Most likely to support flu shots at school were college-educated parents and parents of uninsured children. The study was published in the journal Vaccine.
Flu season can last in the United States through April, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is especially the case in communities where the season started later in the fall or early winter. In a recent report, CDC researchers found that the flu vaccine “offered substantial protection against the flu this [2013-2014] season,” reducing a vaccinated person’s risk of having to go to the doctor for flu illness by about 60 percent across all ages
“We are committed to the development of better flu vaccines, but existing flu vaccines are the best preventive tool available now. This season vaccinated people were substantially better off than people who did not get vaccinated. The season is still ongoing. If you haven’t yet, you should still get vaccinated," said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a recent release. Read more on flu.
Online Ratings Currently Not Used Much to Choose Physicians
Online ratings that review physicians can influence which doctor a patient chooses, but most patients rank insurance acceptance and distance from home or office as more important, according to a new study in JAMA.
- 9 percent of responders said they consider doctor rating websites “very important” in their search for a physician
- 89 percent of responders ranked “accepts my health insurance” as “very important.”
- 59 percent said a convenient office location very important
The study also found that only five percent of those surveyed have ever posted ratings online, although two-thirds of responders were aware of ranking sites, a higher percentage than found in previous studies.
“These may seem useful, but no one is regulating this ‘crowdsourced’ information about doctors. There’s no way to verify its reliability, so online ratings may not currently be the best resource for patients,” David Hanauer, a primary care pediatrician and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Read more on community health.
CDC: H1N1 Flu Killing at Epidemic Levels
The H1N1 flu virus has been killing at epidemic levels since mid-January, according to new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While flu is known to disproportionately affect the very young and very old, this strain—also known as the swine flu and the cause of the 2009 global pandemic that killed tens of thousands—has so far caused 243 deaths of residents younger than 65 this year in California alone, with an additional 41 unconfirmed cases. In the 2012-13 season there were 26 deaths at this point and in the 2011-12 season there were nine. According o the CDC the average age of someone diagnosed with flu this season is 28.5 years. “These severe flu outcomes are a reminder that flu can be a very serious disease for anyone, including young, previously healthy adults,” CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said to The Washington Post. Read more on influenza.
Teens Who Text About Condoms, Birth Control More Likely to Use Them
Teens who talk about condoms and other types of birth control over text message and other technology are more likely to use them, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers studied 176 high school juniors and seniors, finding that half of the 64 who reported being sexually active also failed to use condoms consistently. According to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, close to 40 percent of the 47 percent of high school students who reported having sex did not use a condom the last time. However, the study found that students who texted or used other private electronic technology to discuss condoms or other forms of birth control were approximately four times more likely to use them. It also found that the odds of consistently using condoms doubled among students reporting discussions of pregnancy or sexual limits. "Although prior research and media attention has focused on the risks of technology use, like sexting, we found that adolescents might also use electronic tools to communicate about ways they might promote their sexual health," said study lead author Laura Widman, who studies adolescent sexuality at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "It's not all about risky behavior. It might be another way that teens can have these conversations that can be a little bit awkward.” Read more on sexual health.
Study: Average Obese Woman Gets Only One Hour of Vigorous Exercise Each Year
The average obese woman in the United States gets only one hour of vigorous exercise each year, and the average obese man gets only 3.6 hours, according to a new study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. The study utilized the results of a 2005-2006 government survey of adults aged 20 to 74, which covered areas such as weight, diet and sleep patterns of the nearly 2,600 adults and use accelerometer devices to track their movements. The study defined "vigorous" exercise as fat-burning activities such as jogging and jumping rope. “They're living their lives from one chair to another," said Edward Archer, a research fellow with the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "We didn't realize we were that sedentary. There are some people who are vigorously active, but it's offset by the huge number of individuals who are inactive." According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately one in three U.S. adults is obese, which increases the risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke, diabetes and some cancers. Read more on obesity.