Category Archives: Vaccines

Nov 12 2013
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Why You Should Get Your Flu Shot by Wednesday

The flu season is pretty mild so far. The latest FluView report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that the current rate of flu cases across the country is below other years, and some states have yet to see any flu cases at all. But health experts worry those reports will make people who still haven’t gotten the vaccine complacent about getting their shot. And going without poses the risk of a multi-day illness; transmitting the flu to other people who may be more vulnerable to the virus than you; and the potential for serious side effects such as pneumonia and—in rare cases—death.

If you’re still shotless, health experts advise you to roll up your sleeves by Wednesday if at all possible. Here’s why: Immunity to the flu can take up to two weeks after you’ve received the injection. Get the shot by this Wednesday, November 13, and you’ll be protected by the day before Thanksgiving.

That’s the heaviest U.S. travel day of the year, when the possibility of encountering people with the flu at airports, train stations, or even at Thanksgiving dinner greatly increases.

“Visiting mom, grandma and that new baby can make for memorable holiday moments, as long as you don't bring the flu virus along to spoil the party,” says Jeff Golden, spokesman for the Madison, Wisc., health department which, like many other health departments, has sent out recent flu advisories.

CDC research adds another reason to get the shot this week. The agency has found that the momentum to get the flu vaccine wanes after Thanksgiving, perhaps because people assume that as the weather gets colder, if they haven't gotten influenza yet, they won’t. But that’s foolhardy thinking. The U.S. flu season runs from September through April, and the worst of it often hits in January and February. If you wait until cases increase, you may find that you don’t have enough time for the shot to protect you. And you may also find it hard to locate supplies of the vaccine. Knowing that interest in the shot drops after Thanksgiving, private and public clinics, as well as doctors’ offices, often return unused supplies toward the end of the year to free up storage space and in some cases get a refund on the unused doses. Health departments may then keep supplies centrally, but that location may not be convenient.

Wonder where to get the flu shot? Here are good ideas:

  • Key in your zip code at flu.gov
  • Dial 211, a resource for local services in many communities
  • Check pharmacies to see if they have supplies on hand and what hours they give the shots
  • Call your local health department to ask if they have clinic hours for the flu vaccination
  • Key in “travel clinic” on a search engine to find private clinics in business districts, but call ahead to check on supplies and hours

Health departments may give the shot for free, or ask for payment on a sliding scale based on income. Pharmacies charge about $25, and private doctors’ offices may add a $10 or $20 administrative fee on top of that. The cost is typically covered by insurance, though you may have to file the paperwork yourself.

Oct 30 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 30

HPV Vaccines Less Effective in African-American Women than in White Women
Perhaps because of their lower participation rates in clinical trials, African-American women are less likely to benefit from available human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines that guard against cervical cancer, according to new findings presented at the 12th annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research. The two most popular vaccines in use protect against infection by HPV 16 and HPV 18, which are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancers. However, these two subtypes are half as likely to be found in black women as they are in white women. Researchers found that the most common infections for white women are from subtypes 16, 18, 56, 39 and 66; the most common for black women are 33, 35, 58 and 68. "Since African-American women don't seem to be getting the same subtypes of HPV with the same frequency, the vaccines aren't helping all women equally," said study author Adriana Vidal, Ph.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine. Read more on health disparities.

San Francisco Proposes Tax on Soda, Other Sugary Beverages
In an effort to curb the growing rate of obesity and obesity-related health issues, a San Francisco, California city supervisor has proposed a ballot measure that would impose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary beverages with at least 25 calories per ounce. This would be the first and strongest such city measure in the country, amounting to an additional 24 cents for a normal 12-ounce can of soda. Supervisor Scott Wiener said the tax proceeds, which he estimates would be $30 million annually, would go toward physical education and healthy lunch programs in city schools, as well as city parks, recreation programs and community health organizations. The California cities of Richmond and El Monte last year failed to enact similar taxes. A ballot measure requires a two-thirds majority to pass. "We know that this will be a long road," said Wiener. "This type of proposal has occurred in other cities and the beverage industry always comes out full guns blaring, so we're going to need to pull together to make sure that this wins." Read more on obesity.

Study: Young Cancer Patients at Increased Risk for Suicide
The stress of a cancer diagnosis means that teens and young adults who are diagnosed should be carefully monitored for behavior changes and other issues that could be a sign of suicidal thoughts, according to a new study in the Annals of Oncology. While there is an elevated risk of suicide for cancer patients of all ages, “because adolescents and young adults are still developing their coping strategies for stress, they may be more affected than adults when facing major adversity such as a cancer diagnosis," said lead researcher Donghao Lu, from the department of medical epidemiology and biostatistics at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Lu and his team found that Swedes ages 15-30 with a cancer diagnosis were at a 60 percent greater risk of suicide or attempted suicide, compared to people in the same age group but without cancer; in the first year after the diagnosis the risk was 150 percent higher. Lu said the findings indicate the need for greater communication and cooperation among medical professionals, psychological professionals, family members and social workers. Read more on cancer.

Oct 24 2013
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World Polio Day: Toward Total Eradication

In honor of World Polio Day, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will highlight polio eradication work around the globe on Twitter and Facebook. Development of the polio vaccine has reduced the disease worldwide by 99 percent, with only Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan as the remaining polio endemic countries in 2012.

But both in endemic countries and in countries where polio was thought to have been vanquished, cases persist. According to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, just this week eleven new wild poliovirus (WPV) cases were reported, including one from Afghanistan, two from Ethiopia, four from Pakistan and four from Somalia. The total number of WPV cases for 2013 is now 296, with 99 from countries that have not yet been able to eradicate the disease and 197 from countries that have seen outbreaks. In Israel, for example, while no cases of paralytic polio have been reported, environmental surveillance suggests that virus transmission (first detected in February 2013) continues in parts of the country’s southern and central regions. A vaccination campaign for children under age ten is ongoing.

On December 2, 2011, CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, activated CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to strengthen the agency’s partnership engagement through the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI). Activation of the EOC has provided enhanced capacity for CDC’s polio eradication support program, which trains public health volunteers in the United States and globally to improve polio surveillance and help plan, implement and evaluate vaccination campaigns.

Additional EOC activities include:

  • Publication of several joint World Health Organization Weekly Epidemiologic Record/CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWR) highlighting polio eradication progress.
  • Collaboration with GPEI partners on detailed country-plans for expanded technical and management support, including assistance with outbreak responses, surveillance reviews, vaccination campaign planning and monitoring, and data management.
  • Provision of operational support to Nigeria for the country’s FY 2012 Polio Eradication Emergency Response Plan. The plan focuses on enhancing management and leadership skills to improve program performance.
  • The development of indicators for monitoring polio vaccination campaign performance in the areas of planning, implementation and evaluation.
  • Review of WHO-proposed outbreak response protocols for all polio-affected countries.

“If we fail to get over the finish line [to fully eradicate polio],” says Frieden, “we will need to continue expensive control measures for the indefinite future…More importantly, without eradication, a resurgence of polio could paralyze more than 200,000 children worldwide every year within a decade.”

Oct 9 2013
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In a Government Shutdown, Who’s Tracking the Flu?

Add flu surveillance to the list of casualties of the current government shutdown.

Every flu season, states collect data on flu cases — including case reports and viral specimens — and send those to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for recording and tracking. That tracking is critical in order to:

  • provide information on how well-matched the seasonal flu vaccine is to the flu viruses found in the community;
  • identify severe outbreaks that require increased supplies of antiviral medicines for people who contract the flu; and
  • identify emerging strains that might require a new vaccine to be developed this season, which is what happened several years ago when CDC identified the H1N1 influenza virus toward the end of the flu season, and quickly ramped up for a new vaccine.

Flu season generally runs October through April, with the peak from about January to March. If the shutdown continues then, “as the flu season goes on, our knowledge of what’s happening will be impaired,” says William Schaffner, MD, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and the immediate past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, underscored his concern in a tweet on the first day of the government shutdown: “CDC had to furlough 8,754 people. They protected you yesterday, can't tomorrow. Microbes/other threats didn't shut down. We are less safe.”

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Oct 1 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 1

Health Insurance Marketplaces Under the Affordable Care Act Open Today in Every State
Health insurance marketplaces, also known as health insurance exchanges, open today in every state under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law three years ago. Coverage obtained through the exchanges gives purchasers guaranteed access to health care and a range of preventive services, including cancer screenings; vaccinations; care for managing chronic diseases; and mental health and substance use services. “Most importantly…coverage will translate into more opportunities to live longer, healthier and fuller lives,” saidRisa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which has launched a comprehensive resource site to help individuals, families and small businesses learn about coverage options available to them, and enroll. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

2010 California Pertussis Outbreak Linked to ‘Personal Belief Exemptions’ to Vaccines
Researchers have linked the 2010 California pertussis—or “whopping cough”—outbreak to parents who refused to have their children vaccinated for other than medical reasons. During the outbreak, 9,120 people became sick and 10 infants died. The study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at both outbreaks and filed personal belief exemptions, finding that people who lived in areas with high rates of such exemptions were about 2.5 times more likely to live in an area with many cases of pertussis. Approximately 95 percent of a population must be vaccinated in order for it to maintain herd immunity. Read more on vaccines.

Study: Against Medical Advice, 14 Percent of Infants Sleep in the Same Bed as Parents, Caregivers
Despite the associated risks, many infants still sleep in the same bed as parents, other adults and or children, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The rate has more than doubled since the early 1990s and now stands at about 14 percent. Such sleeping arrangements increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or death from other sleep-related causes. Study co-author Marian Willinger, special assistant for SIDS at the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said it is important for doctors to discuss proper sleep-time habits with new parents; the study found that parents who receive advice against sleeping in the same bed as infants are 34 percent less likely to do so. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Aug 28 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 28

Rotavirus Vaccinations for Babies Also Reduce Disease in Older Children, Adults
Regular rotavirus vaccinations for babies have also helped lower the rate of rotavirus-related hospitalizations for older children and adults since 2006, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Rotavirus can cause gastroenteritis, leading to severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. Ben Lopman, who worked on the study at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters that the improved rates for older children and adults was an unexpected benefit of the vaccinations. An oral form of the vaccination became routine in 2007, after which rotavirus-related hospital discharges dropped by 70 percent for children ages 5-14, by 53 percent for people ages 15-24 and by 43 percent for adults ages 25-44. "This is one example of what we call herd immunity," he said. "By vaccinating young children you prevent them from getting sick, but you also prevent them from transmitting (rotavirus) to their siblings and their parents." Read more on vaccines.

Report: Fewer Kids Illegally Buying Tobacco Products
The Synar Amendment Program was started 16 years ago in an effort to prevent the sale of tobacco products to people under the age of 18. A new report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that it’s working, with only about 9 percent of retailers violating the ban, the second lowest rate since the law was enacted and far better than SAMHSA’s goal of 20 percent. In addition, 33 states and the District of Columbia now have local violation rates below 10 percent; and nine states have statewide violation rates below 5 percent. Still, Frances Harding, director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, said that "Far more needs to be done to prevent kids and young adults from using tobacco, which is still the nation's leading cause of preventable death.” Read more on tobacco.

High Cholesterol Levels Dramatically Increases Heart Attack Risk in Middle-aged Men
While high cholesterol levels are dangerous for both men and women, middle-aged men with high levels have three times the risk of heart attack, according to a new study in the journal Epidemiology. Lead researcher Erik Madssen, MD, of the department of circulation and medical imaging at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said this means men with high cholesterol levels should be receiving more aggressive treatment than is currently common. The reason for the difference in risk still isn’t known, though Madssen said one possibility is the positive effects of estrogen. Both men and women can reduce the risk of heart attack by making lifestyle changes such as improved diet and exercise, as well as through medication; preventative efforts are especially important for people with a family history of heart disease. Read more on heart health.

Aug 20 2013
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Mumps Alert For College Campuses This Fall

Following several outbreaks of mumps cases on college and university campuses this past spring, the American College Health Association (ACHA) recently issued an alert urging institutes of higher education to keep mumps on their radar and require proof of complete mumps vaccination coverage for all students, which means having received two doses of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) usually between 12 to 15 months and then again between the ages of 4 and 6.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to half of people who contract mumps show very mild to no symptoms. However, the most common symptoms of mumps that may appear after 12 to 18 days of incubation include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swollen and tender salivary glands under the ears

While mumps is usually a mild disease in children, contracting mumps after puberty can have adverse effects on both the male and female reproductive systems and in some cases can affect the central nervous system.

According to the chair of ACHA’s Vaccine Preventable Diseases Committee, Susan Even, MD, most colleges and universities already require two doses of the MMR vaccine for enrolled students. Even is also the executive director of the student health center at the University of Missouri, where she says the health center participates in new student orientation. Incoming students who are behind on immunizations including the full course of MMR are directed to come in to the health center and receive the appropriate boosters, which they can charge to their campus account.

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Jul 26 2013
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Recommended Reading: HHS Working to Improve Global Health

Even as the global population continues to grow, technological and societal advances mean that our world is constantly getting smaller. Or at least that we are becoming more interconnected.

Understanding this—that a person in a Midwestern U.S. state is better off when a person on the other side of the world has access to quality health care—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Global Health Strategy is working with partners across the globe to improve the health of everyone.

"Although the chief mission of [HHS] is to enhance the health and well being of Americans, it is critically important that we cooperate with other nations and international organizations to reduce the risks of disease, disability, and premature death throughout the world," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

One of the most powerful initiatives has been the push toward greater immunization rates. Immunizations alone saved 3 million children’s lives in 2011. Over the past decade, premature deaths from measles have been cut by 71 percent and from tetanus by more than 90 percent. And polio is closer and closer to complete eradication.

Still, vaccine-preventable diseases still account for approximately one in four global deaths of children under the age of 5. And of the 22 million children who go without the full benefits of vaccines each year, it is often the poorest that are most affected.

Among the greatest continuing obstacles are the persistent myths surrounding vaccinations, such as the false and repeatedly debunked belief that they cause autism.

“Overcoming these mistaken beliefs has become an integral part of our work towards global vaccine access. Until we reach the day when no lives are lost to vaccine-preventable diseases, we will aggressively continue to develop new and improved vaccines and ensure they are available to everyone in every country.”

>> Read the full “Beyond our borders: Why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services invests in global efforts” at DefeatDD.org.

Jul 26 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: July 26

MERS Unlikely to Cause Pandemic; Global Cooperation Still Needed
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which emerged last year in Saudi Arabia, was compared to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and found to be less infectious, in a new study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The study examined the question of whether MERS has the potential to cause a pandemic, and how quickly. The study authors concluded that MERS does not yet have pandemic potential, and in fact appears to be less infectious than SARS. There have been 81 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infections, 45 of which were fatal. MERS is more likely to affect older men with chronic disease, and were most often transmitted in health care settings—but unlike SARS, the virus was less likely to also infect healthy health care workers. Researchers call for healthcare facilities to prepare to provide safe care for patients with acute respiratory infections, and take measures to help prevent the spread of the disease. Read more on infectious disease.

CDC: HPV Vaccination Rates for Adolescent Girls Remain Stagnant
Just over half (53.8%) of girls age 13-17 years old received the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine in 2012, with no increase over the rate in 2011. Since 2006, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended routine vaccination of adolescent girls at ages 11 or 12 years with 3 doses of HPV vaccine. HPV causes 70 percent of cervical cancers. If HPV vaccine had been offered during healthcare visits when girls were already in the office to get a different vaccine, HPV vaccination coverage could have reached 90 percent. Approximately 79 million persons in the United States are infected with HPV, and approximately 14 million will become newly infected each year. Each year, 26,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed that can be traced back to HPV infection. Read more on vaccines.

New Breathalyzer-like Device Tells You If Your Workout is Working
New technology being prototyped in Japan measures how well you're burning body fat and help you gauge the success of your diet and exercise program, using a smartphone and pocket-sized, bluetooth enabled device. The device measures exhaled breath for acetone, a metabolite produced from fat burning. The researchers tested the device in 17 healthy men and women, reporting their findings online July 25 in the Journal of Breath Research, and finding that the device was as effective as more established "gold standard" measures. Further research is needed on larger, more diverse populations, but if it pans out, "Enabling users to monitor the state of fat burning could play a pivotal role in daily diet management," Hiyama said in a journal news release. Read more on technology.

Jul 24 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: July 24

Study: Pertussis Booster Only ‘Moderately’ Effective
The “booster” vaccine for pertussis—or whooping cough—is only “moderately” effective in preventing the disease in adolescents and adults, according to a new study in the journal BMJ. The Kaiser Permanente-backed study, which is the first to look at the effectiveness of the Tdap booster shot in the new generation that has only received acellular vaccines, found the effectiveness to be between 53 and 64 percent. This indicates that additional vaccinations may be required to adequately prevent outbreaks according to lead author Roger Baxter, MD, co-director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center. The state of California saw its highest number of cases of pertussis in more than 60 years in 2010, when it had more than 9,000 cases that led to 809 hospitalizations and 10 deaths, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Read more on vaccines.

NYC Hospitals Prescribing Fruits, Vegetables to At-risk Youth
An apple a day to keep the doctor away? At two New York City hospitals, you can get a prescription for just that. Under a four-month pilot program, doctors at Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx and Harlem Hospital are giving prescriptions for fruits and vegetables to at-risk youths. The kids and their families receive coupons which can be redeemed for product at local farmers markets and city green carts. “This is probably going to prevent an awful lot more disease over the long-term than a lot of the medicines we tend to write for,” said New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, MD, said Tuesday in the green market outside Lincoln Medical Center. Read more on nutrition.

Breast Cancer Survival Times Shorter for Black Women
The fact that black women receive less health care overall than their white counterparts, combined with the lack of early screening and detection programs in many black communities, means they live an average of three fewer years with a breast cancer diagnosis, according to a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that black women were less likely to receive an early diagnosis when the cancer was more treatable; they also found that quality of care was in general lower, though not enough to explain the survival gap. Data showed that 70 percent of white women lived at least five years after a breast cancer diagnosis, compared to 56 percent of black women. “Something is going wrong,” said Jeffrey H. Silber, MD, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Center for Outcomes Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which studies disparities in health care. “These are huge differences. We are getting there too late. That’s why we are seeing these differences in survival.” Read more on cancer.