Category Archives: Flu
The most recent update on flu activity in the U.S. from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds 47 states showing widespread activity, down from 48 states the week before. “Widespread” means that more than half of the counties in a state are reporting flu activity. While the Western part of the country will likely see more cases, flu seems to be slowing some in the South, Southeast, New England and the Midwest—though still packing a punch in terms of illness, deaths, emergency room visits and hospital admissions.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Paul Etkind, MPH, DrPH, MPH, DrPH, Senior Director of Infectious Diseases at the National Association of County and City Health Officials about the role local health departments play in educating communities about flu prevention and helping to facilitate treatment.
NewPublicHealth: What, if anything, is different about the flu this year?
Paul Etkind: The flu severity that’s being experienced, which we haven’t seen for several years now, has gotten the public’s attention and they’re really heeding the public health urgings, communication and education that’s been going on all along saying hey, get your flu shots, protect yourself. So now, within a relatively short period of time, there’s a very large demand for flu shots.
During the H1N1 outbreak of a few years ago, there was much greater funding for what the health departments were doing. I saw some magic happening then. They had the funds to hold clinics in very unusual places, such as local baseball stadiums and airports. They went to places where people are most comfortable.
Hopkins Researchers Use Twitter to Track the Flu
A new method of tracking influenza cases using Twitter could also be utilized to track other illnesses, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins University. The researchers, along with computer scientists, created an algorithm that uses human language-processing technologies to filter out general discussion about the flu and zeroes in on messages about actual flu cases, according to Reuters. The National Institutes of Health's Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study contributed funding to the research. Read more on influenza.
Recalls Announced by Two Well-known Food Companies
Some well-known food companies recalled products yesterday. ConAgra Foods, of Omaha, Neb., has initiated a voluntary recall for lots of its 8 ounce Hunt's Tomato Sauce (regular variety) and Hunt's Tomato Sauce No Salt Added. There are no concerns about the actual food, but a defect in the can cause them to burst when opening. Also BBU Inc., the parent of the Bimbo Bakeries companies, is voluntarily recalling certain of its fresh bagels due to the possibility of metal fragments. Read more on food safety.
Study: Bad News Leads to More Eating, Calorie Cravings
Bringing new meaning to the concept of “comfort food,” researchers have found that bad news—messages of struggle and adversity—can cause people to overeat. In the study, participants shown negative messages ate 40 percent more than those who saw neutral messages. They were also more drawn to high calorie foods. "It is clear from the studies that taste was not what caused the reactions, it was a longing for calories," said study author Juliano Laran, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, in a release. “These findings could have positive implications for individuals in the health care field, government campaigns on nutrition, and companies promoting wellness. And, certainly beware of savvy food marketers bearing bad news." The study appears in the journal Psychological Science. Read more on nutrition.
Add electronic health records to the critical weapons health professionals have against the flu, as 48 states currently deal with widespread flu activity and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports at least 30 pediatric deaths so far. At least half of those children had not received a flu shot, according to CDC Director Thomas Frieden.
A CDC report from September 2012 found that about 128 million people, or about 42 percent of the U.S. population, got the flu shot during the 2011-2012 season, which started later and proved milder than the one we’re in now. That number has been holding steady for several years, but is below the CDC’s goal of 80 percent of the U.S. population receiving a flu shot.
Kaiser Permanente in Northern California, however, has seen a 6 percent increase in its two-million plus members getting the 2012-2013 flu shot over previous years, for which it gives credit to HealthConnect, the largest civilian health record data base in the United States. Randy Bergen, MD, the vaccine lead at Kaiser in Northern California, says the system lets Kaiser Staff “proactively reach out to all its members and even identify those at greatest risk from contracting the flu [which includes children, the elderly and people with chronic diseases] to give them an extra nudge.”
The timeliest presentation at this year’s Public Health Law Research Program annual meeting taking place this week in New Orleans was likely the study presented by Richard Zimmerman, MD, MPH, and a professor of family medicine at the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine. Zimmerman’s research looked at factors—including hospital policies—that help drive health workers to get a flu shot. The study looked at 429 hospitals in 41 states and found that 31 employed a mandate that fired workers who refused a flu shot, while 131 has other types of mandated requirements. For example, a health worker who refused the flu shot was required to wear a mask at all times while on the job during flu season.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about your study.
Dr. Zimmerman: It was essentially a nationwide study that looked at the worker vaccination rate and what policies to use to increase vaccination rates. Factors associated with the highest rates are hospital mandates, either making vaccination a condition of employment or requiring safeguards such as mandating that health workers who don’t get a flu shot wear a mask during the flu season. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goal for the percentage of health workers getting flu shots is 90 percent, but many institutions achieve rates in the 60 percent to 75 percent range.
NPH: How do you increase that?
Dr. Zimmerman: It’s a high bar. We see over a decade that we’ve moved from the 40s to the 60s, but I fear we are going to plateau at the 65 to 75 percent ranges.
NPH: What reasons do workers, and the general public, give for not getting the flu vaccine
New York Declares Public Health Emergency for Flu
The state of New York has declared a public health emergency due to the increasingly severe flu season, which has reached epidemic levels. The declaration allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to patients between six months and 18 years of age and suspends for the next 30 days the state’s law that limits the authority of pharmacists to administer vaccinations only to people 18 and older. "We are experiencing the worst flu season since at least 2009, and influenza activity in New York state is widespread, with cases reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City," said Governor Andrew Cuomo, according to Reuters. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine of the ten regions of the United States have “elevated” flu activity. Last week the city of Boston, Ma., declared a public health emergency in response to the flu. Read more on influenza.
High Noise Levels in Sports Stadiums Hurts Workers, Spectators
High noise levels in the workplace—especially in nontraditional workplaces such as sports stadiums—are often unappreciated and can lead to permanent hearing loss, according to two new studies in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH). The can also be damaging to spectators. “While severe traumatic injuries and degenerative brain disorders due to concussive blows are recognized as severe hazards among athletes, exposure to high noise likely affects far more individuals (spectators and referees), and the resulting permanent hearing loss decreases the quality of life of those affected,” said JOEH Editor in Chief Mark Nicas, PhD, CIH. Read more on business.
Simple Traffic Changes Make Streets Safer, Save Pedestrian Lives
Traffic changes around schools in New York City helped cut child pedestrian injuries by 44 percent during “school travel” hours, according to the results of the National Safe Routes to School program published in the journal Pediatrics. "The study shows that safety programs really do work," said Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, according to HealthDay. "Making common sense improvements around schools by adding sidewalks and speed bumps, improving signage, and creating more visible crosswalks prevents injuries and saves lives." Safer streets also encourage kids and their parents to get more physical activity. Read more on safety.
MLB to Test for Human Growth Hormone During the Season
Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have agreed to perform in-season blood testing for human growth hormone, as well as a test to detect synthetic testosterone. The use of performance-enhancing drugs has become a significant issue in baseball over the past several years, calling into question the accomplishments of many players going back to the 1980s. Earlier this week the sport’s Hall of Fame announced no one had been elected on this year’s ballot, which included perhaps the greatest batter and the greatest pitcher of the past 40 years—both of whom are tainted by the scandal of the steroid era. Read more on substance abuse.
Flu Season Seeing Shortages of Vaccine, Tamiflu
The increasingly bad flu season is also now seeing a shortage of flu vaccine and the Tamiflu treatment for children. Many forms of the vaccine are sold out and major vaccine provider Sanofi SA said it cannot make any more vaccine for this season because its facilities are already preparing for next season, according to Reuters. "People who haven't been vaccinated and want to get the vaccine may have to look in several places for it," said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Earlier this week the city of Boston declared a public health emergency due to the flu. The city has reported about 700 cases since October 1. Read more on influenza.
Prescription Painkiller Misuse Trails only Marijuana Abuse In U.S.
Prescription painkillers trail only marijuana when it comes to substance abuse in the United States, according to a new report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Approximately 22 million people have misused the drugs since 2002. "Any time you have 2 percent of the population using medications like this there is a lot to do, but we are doing a lot with a combination of putting tighter controls on who can get these drugs and public education," said Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, according to HealthDay. Painkiller abuse is also taking a growing toll on emergency departments who deal with people seeking treatment. Read more on prescription drugs.
Boston Declares Public Health Emergency over Flu
The city of Boston has declared a public health emergency in response to the severe flu season. Approximately 700 people are believed to have contracted the flu since October 1—up dramatically from the total of 70 cases for the entirety of last flu season. The Boston Public Health Commission is offering free vaccination clinics this weekend. “This is not only a health concern, but also an economic concern for families, and I’m urging residents to get vaccinated if they haven’t already,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino in a release. “It’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family. If you’re sick, please stay home from work or school.” Read more on influenza.
FDA Releases Draft Guidance on Abuse-Resistant Opioids
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued draft guidance to help the pharmaceutical industry develop new formulations of opioid drugs that are less likely to be abused. Included in the guidance is information on studies the agencies would like to see that demonstrate that a formulation has “abuse-deterrent properties,” how those studies will be evaluated by the FDA and what labeling claims may be approved based on the results of the studies. “The FDA is extremely concerned about the inappropriate use of prescription opioids, which is a major public health challenge for our nation,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD. “This draft guidance is an important part of a larger effort by FDA aimed at preventing prescription drug abuse and misuse.” According to the FDA, abuse-deterrent formulations target the known types of opioid abuse, such as crushing in order to snort or dissolving in order to inject, for the specific opioid drug substance in that formulation. The science of abuse deterrence is relatively new, and both the formulation technologies and the analytical, clinical and statistical methods for evaluating those technologies are developing quickly, according to the agency. “Our nation is in the midst of a prescription drug abuse epidemic,” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy. “While there are no silver bullet solutions to this public health and safety challenge, abuse-deterrent formulations of powerful prescription opioids can make a difference in addressing this epidemic.” Read a NewPublicHealth interview with director Kerlikowske.
Report Says Cost-Cutting Measures Now Could Save $2 Trillion in Health Care Costs
Implementing cost-cutting measures now could help the United States save $2 trillion on health care over the next 10 years, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Fund. The plan calls for using gross domestic product per capita to determine overall healthcare spending growth, which would include Medicare, Medicaid, other government programs and private insurers. Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal said the proposal is an alternative to some of the possibilities being floated for the upcoming deficit talks, which could end up cutting entitlement programs. "In comparison with what some of those proposals advocate, we think that some of what we're proposing will look like an escape valve." Read more on access to health care.
CDC: Women Following New Pap Test Guidelines
Two new reports in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report show most women ages 30 and younger are following the new national recommendations for Pap tests and about 60 percent of women continue having the tests after undergoing total hysterectomies. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and American Cancer Society recommend Pap tests every three years beginning at the age of 21, not annually, in part to minimize unnecessary procedures. “As we monitor Pap test use among U.S. women, we can make sure that women are being screened in accordance with guidelines, to best maximize the benefits of screening and minimize the harms,” said Meg Watson, MPH, an epidemiologist with CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, in a release. Read more on prevention.
Flu Season Could be Worst in Years
This year’s influenza season appears to have started early and could be one of the worst in years, according to reports from health care professionals across the country. In many areas the season was already going strong by November, although the normal peak for flu season is late January and early February. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 16 states and New York City are reporting high levels of flu activity. The CDC estimates about 36,000 people die each season from flu-related causes. Read more on influenza.
Improving Work Conditions for Nurses Can Cut Readmission Rates
Positive work conditions for nurses also seem to cut the readmission rates for patients, according to a new study in the journal Medical Care. For such hospitals, readmission for Medicare patients ages 65 and older within 30 days was down 7 percent for heart failure, 6 percent for heart attack and 10 percent for pneumonia. "Our results suggest that improving nurses' work environment and reducing nurses' workload are organization-wide reforms that could result in fewer readmissions for Medicare beneficiaries with common medical conditions," said study author Matthew McHugh in a release. "This is consistent with the evidence showing significant associations between the nurse work environment, staffing, and other patient outcomes." Read more on access to health care.
APHA Supports Measures to Protect Against Gun Violence
The American Public Health Association (APHA) has expressed its strong support for action to protect our nation’s children and their families from the growing epidemic of gun violence. “Gun violence is one of the leading causes of preventable death in our country and we must take a comprehensive public health approach to addressing this growing crisis,” said APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD. “For too long, we as a nation have failed to take on this devastating problem in our communities, and we can wait no longer.” Key steps recommended by the APHA include:
- Adopting common sense gun control legislation (such as reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines) and closing the “gun show loophole,” which exempts private sellers of firearms from conducting criminal background checks on buyers at gun shows.
- Expanding the collection and analysis of data related to gun violence and other violent deaths to better understand the causes and allow authorities to develop appropriate interventions to prevent such violence.
- Ensuring adequate funding for critical mental health services.
Read more on violence.
FDA Expands Use of Flu Drug for Kids Younger than 1 Year
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded the approved use of Tamiiflu, a key drug used to treat influenza, for children as young as two weeks who have had flu symptoms for no longer than two days. Eight babies have already died of flu this season, so having an approved treatment is critical. Tamiflu was first approved in 1999 to treat adults. Its approved use was later expanded to treat children a year old and older as well as to prevent the flu in adults and in children a year old and older. The new approval is for treatment only, not for prevention of the flu. Vaccination with flu vaccine begins at six months of age, according to the CDC. Read more on flu.
HUD Awards $26M to Convert Apartments to Assisted Living or Enhanced Service Senior Housing
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded $26 million in grants to the owners of multi-family housing developments in nine states to convert some or all of their apartments into assisted living or service-enriched environments for elderly residents. The funding is provided through HUD’s Assisted Living Conversion Program, which helps convert apartments into units that can accommodate the special needs of seniors who want to “age in place.” “We’re getting older as a nation and with that demographic shift, there is a growing demand for affordable housing that will allow our seniors to live independently in their own homes,” said Carol Galante, HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Housing and Federal Housing Commissioner. Read more on aging.
University of North Carolina Researchers Receive Grant to Develop Post-Disaster Recovery Benchmarks
Two University of North Carolina (UNC) researchers have received a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Grant to develop indicators of effectiveness for post-disaster recovery efforts. "This project is particularly important because it focuses on giving practitioners at the federal, state, and local levels the tools they need to measure how well a community is recovering from a disaster," said Jennifer Horney, PHD, research assistant professor of epidemiology and director of the UNC Center for Public Health Preparedness at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health. The grant will be administered by the Coastal Hazards Center of Excellence at UNC. Read more on Hurricane Sandy.
CDC: This could be a Bad Flu Year
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, told reporters yesterday that 2012 is the earliest regular flu season in a decade, “and while flu is always unpredictable, the early nature of the cases as well as the specific strains we're seeing suggest that this could be a bad flu year.” Read more on flu.
“Hiding” Cigarettes in Stores May Reduce Youth Smoking
A new study published in Pediatrics finds, using an interactive, virtual convenience store, that teens were less likely to try to buy tobacco products when they were hidden from view.
In the study, researchers asked more than 1,200 teens ages 13 to 17 to “shop” in a virtual store, using several store scenarios. Compared to teens who shopped in stores with openly visible tobacco products, those who shopped in stores where tobacco products were hidden were less aware that the products were for sale and were significantly less likely to try to purchase tobacco products.
The researchers say the study bolsters support for policies that would ban the display of tobacco products at the point of sale. Read more on tobacco.
Heart Healthy Diet May Help Protect People with Heart Disease
People with cardiovascular disease may get protection against future heart attacks and strokes by eating a heart healthy diet, according to a new study in the journal Circulation.
For the study, 31,546 adults (average age 66.5) with cardiovascular disease or end organ damage were asked how often they consumed milk, vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, meat and poultry in the past 12 months and were also asked about lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise. Total scores were determined by daily fruits, vegetables, grains and milk consumed and the ratio of fish to meats consumed. During a follow-up of nearly five years, participants experienced 5,190 cardiovascular events.
Researchers found those who ate a heart-healthy diet had a:
- 35 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular death;
- 14 percent reduction in risk for new heart attacks;
- 28 percent reduction in risk for congestive heart failure; and
- 19 percent reduction in risk for stroke.
Read more on heart health.