Posts Tagged ‘H1N1 flu’

2010 – 2011 Flu Season Off to a Slow Start

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

After last year’s H1N1 swine flu scare, the 2010 – 2011 season is off to a slow start, though the illness is currently on the rise.   Thus far, Georgia seems to be hardest hit with the state’s schoolchildren reporting the most cases of flu, according to Anne Schuchat, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.  More than 20 percent of the specimens tested in Georgia have turned up positive for flu – primarily the B strain – compared with 10.7 percent nationwide.  Once that number exceeds 12 percent, the flu season has officially arrived.

“If you’ve been thinking about getting vaccinated for influenza, now is a very good time to do so,” said Howard Koh, MD, assistant secretary for health for the Department of Health and Human Services.  The CDC is stressing the importance of getting immunized against flu before the traditional winter peak hits.  This season marks the start of a universal recommendation that all American over the age of six months be vaccinated.

According to Schuchat, it’s impossible to predict how bad the flu season will be.  Both she and Koh said that flu viruses are notoriously unpredictable, with last year’s epidemic that killed 12,000 people a prime example.  This year’s flu strains are primarily A/H3N2, B/H3N2 and 2009 H1N1 pandemic strains, though the first two seem to predominate.  Approximately one third of adults and children have had flu shots so far, a rate that is slightly ahead of last year at this time.  Schuchat encourages all Americans to get a flu shot because the season is fully under way.  Approximately 160 million doses of the vaccine have already been distributed.

WHO Officially Bids Farewell to H1N1 Pandemic

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

After 18,449 deaths, swine flu pandemic is pronounced to be at the end.  The H1N1 flu pandemic is officially at an end, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  The announcement came months after many nations canceled vaccine orders and shut down telephone hotlines as the illness disappeared from the headlines.  Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director, said that the pandemic had “largely run its course” and that the phase six alert – the highest influenza level – is officially at an end.  “I fully agree with the committee’s advice,” Chan said.  At present, the virus is in the “post-pandemic” phase, meaning disease activity has returned to levels normally seen for seasonal flu bugs.

Chan cautioned against complacency, noting that “It is likely that the virus will continue to cause serious disease in younger age groups”, she said and urged high-risk individuals such as pregnant women to be vaccinated against the disease.  A total of 18,449 people have died across the globe since the H1N1 flu first appeared in April of 2009.  Chan defended her decision to declare swine flu a pandemic, saying it was based on the globally agreed rules that were in place at the time.  “We have been aided by pure good luck,” she said, noting that if the virus had mutated, the death rate would have soared.  Angus Nicoll, flu program coordinator with the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said the declaration that the pandemic had ended was consistent with the Stockholm-based organization’s views.

An interesting point is that while reports of flu in the northern hemisphere are at seasonal lows, nations in the southern hemisphere (where it is currently winter) show few people are seriously ill with swine flu, Nicoll said.  Still, healthcare workers should get ready for a new seasonal flu that will combine elements of the pandemic H1N1 strain, the older H3N2 strain and additional lesser strains, according to Nicoll, who said “It looks sort of middle of the road at the moment.”

“Lurking in the background we still have H5N1,” Chan said in a reference to the bird flu that has sickened 503 people over seven years and killed 299 of them.  Chan’s advice for the future is for people to get their usual seasonal flu shot this fall to protect against the disease.

A Mixed Report on Americans’ Health

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

One-third of Americans say they don’t feel very healthy.  A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics reveals good news and bad news about the general health of the American public. The bad news is that approximately one-third of respondents say they don’t feel particularly well.  The percentage of Americans reporting they are in excellent health fell to 66.6 percent for the first half of 2009, compared with 69.1 percent in 1998.

Although more Americans report they exercise regularly, upwards of 25 percent are considered obese with a body mass index of 30 or more.  That’s a significant increase over the 19.5 percent reported in 1997.  Type 2 diabetes is also on the rise, with 8.8 percent of Americans diagnosed with the disease in 2009, compared with just 5.3 percent in 1997.  The rate of asthma rose to 8.3 percent in 2009, compared with 7.6 percent in 2001.  Ten percent of children under 15 are asthmatic.

Jeannine S. Schiller, a statistician with the health statistics center, noted that some significant changes exist between the 2008 and 2009 reports.  “Flu vaccines were up for people 18 to 49 years old, leisure-time activity was up, and the failure to attain needed medical care due to cost went up significantly in one year,” according to Schiller.  “Diabetes is also up over the short term.”

The report stressed that 15 percent of Americans do not have healthcare insurance, and lack resources they can access for basic medical care.

H1N1 Flu Pandemic a Case of Overreaction?

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

Even though federal health agencies are launching a major campaign to make certain that more Americans get flu shots, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that the H1N1 swine flu pandemic is not as bad as originally feared.Was the H1N1 flu panic really necessary

“It’s probably going to be the mildest pandemic on record – compared to the three that happened in the 20th century,” according to Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of an article in the journal Public Library of Science.

Although the flu season is far from over – and a third wave of H1N1 could still occur – only eight percent of Americans have been infected so far.  By contrast, the Spanish Influenza of 1918 – 1920 infected approximately 28 percent of all Americans.  According to Lipsitch, if the H1N1 virus doesn’t alter, it’s fair to expect that between 10 and 20 percent of Americans will become infected. “That’s toward the upper end of a typical flu season,” he said.

If 15 percent of the population is stricken with H1N1, hospitalizations could range from approximately 70,000 to 600,000.  Lipsitch expects hospitalizations will fall in the middle of that range, which is what happens in a typical flu season.  The H1N1 death rate has been less than during a normal flu season.  The difference is that most of the deaths have been children, teenagers and adults under the age of 50.  In a typical year, flu tends to kill people over age 65.  The reason is that younger people are getting H1N1 flu, while older people are not.

The WHO Raise the Alert on Swine Flu

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

In a 24/7 media world, virtually everyone has now heard of the H1N1 – or swine – flu that is popping up in countries as distant as Peru and Switzerland. If they haven’t, they now surely will. World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Margaret Chan has declared a phase 5 alert – which raises the warning to the level of advising nations to prepare for a pandemic — after consulting with international flu experts.swine-flu

This alert might strike some people as alarmist, given that “regular” flu kills 36,000 Americans every year – compared with the single death so far we’ve seen in the United States and the 13 confirmed deaths worldwide so far in the current outbreak. But looking at it more closely, the WHO’s preemptive strike may be motivated more by historical fact than today’s news. The Spanish Influenza of 1918 – 1920, which arrived in a similar time frame, infected 28 percent of all Americans; an estimated 675,000 Americans died of the disease and about 50 million across the globe.  Clearly, this was a different order of pandemic at a time when the global health system was recovering from WWI and ill-equipped to deal with the emergency. But where it bears some resemblance to swine flu is that the first wave of flu appeared early in the spring of 1918. It disappeared over the summer, with the second wave arriving in Boston in September of 1918. With the number of cases expected to grow into the thousands, according to the chief at Mexico City’s National Institute of Respiratory Diseases’ Center for the Investigation of Infectious Diseases in Mexico City, the WHO’s response is understandable and responsible.

The one concern is on behalf of our already burdened health system.  Raising the alert level puts pressure on our emergency rooms especially as people are likely to interpret any flu-like symptoms as signs of H1N1 flu. This is when communication with the public is critical. Representatives of the CDC should be using the copious air time they’re being given not only to report on the level of the contagion but to educate the public about its symptoms and to calm fears.