Friday, January 18th, 2013
During a dangerous flu season, health experts are emphasizing that the vaccine is safe–and important–for pregnant women. The Associated Press reports on a new Norwegian study that confirms the vaccine’s safety during pregnancy:
A large study offers reassuring news for pregnant women: It’s safe to get a flu shot.
The research found no evidence that the vaccine increases the risk of losing a fetus, and may prevent some deaths. Getting the flu while pregnant makes fetal death more likely, the Norwegian research showed.
The flu vaccine has long been considered safe for pregnant women and their fetuses. U.S. health officials began recommending flu shots for them more than five decades ago, following a higher death rate in pregnant women during a flu pandemic in the late 1950s.
But the study is perhaps the largest look at the safety and value of flu vaccination during pregnancy, experts say.
“This is the kind of information we need to provide our patients when discussing that flu vaccine is important for everyone, particularly for pregnant women,” said Dr. Geeta Swamy, a researcher who studies vaccines and pregnant women at Duke University Medical Center.
For more, read What Pregnant Women Need to Know About the Flu on Parents.com.
Image: Pregnant woman getting shot, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, January 10th, 2013
This season’s outbreak of influenza, or flu, is raging across the country, taking kids out of school and parents out of work at levels that dwarf last year’s flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that more than half of the country’s states have reported widespread infection levels, flu has hospitalized more than 2,200 people across the country, and 18 children have died as a result of infection. It is not too late, CDC officials say, for people to get–and be protected by–the flu vaccine.
More from CNN:
Why so many cases?
Zich theorizes that one reason there are so many flu cases is that the heart of the flu season coincided with the December holiday season, meaning many people were already sleep-deprived from parties and were more likely to get sick.
Those who went to gatherings of family or friends may have already begun to feel sick, and spread the virus to others. People are generally contagious the day before symptoms start, and for five days after becoming sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last flu season was light, but this year has brought with it some “ominous signs,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Tuesday.
Flu cases started going up early, toward the end of November and the beginning of December, he said.
“And it went up on a pretty steep trajectory,” he said. “The last time we saw that happen that way was the flu season of 2003 and 2004, which turned out to be a bad flu season.”
The type of flu that is going around is called H3N2, which is often linked to more serious disease compared to other flu varieties, Fauci said.
But there’s good news: That type of flu matches up well to the vaccine that is being distributed and given out throughout the United States.
People may get more complications from this particular strain of H3N2, “which may make them ill for a longer period of time,” Dr. Michael Jhung, medical epidemiologist in the influenza division at CDC, told CNN’s Mary Snow.
“But symptoms typically last up to seven days for a normal infection, a noncomplicated infection with influenza,” he said. “And we usually see that from year to year regardless of what strains are circulating.”
The CDC says it will release updated information on Friday. Meanwhile, it offers these tips to prevent the spread of seasonal flu:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
Image: Flu-stricken woman, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released information saying that the seasonal flu has begun earlier than usual—and is expected to be severe, especially in the country’s south and southeast. More from NBC News:
“It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The percentage of aching, feverish folks who went to the doctor with influenza-like illness had reached the national baseline of 2.2 percent, the earliest that has happened in the regular flu season in nearly a decade, the 2003-2004 season. Flu season may start as early as October, but typically peaks in January or later.
Five states reported high levels of flu activity—Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. Widespread activity was reported in four states, regional activity was seen in seven states and 19 states reported local flu activity, CDC officials said. That was up from eight states that reported local flu activity the previous week.
By contrast, last year’s flu season started late, with an uptick in cases not starting until February.
Health officials are urging people to get their flu shots now, including babies older than six months, and all adults and children. Every year, about a quarter of the U.S. population gets the flu and an average of about 36,000 people die.
Image: Box of tissues, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, October 30th, 2012
The era of seasonal flu vaccines may be coming to an end, if scientists succeed in their efforts to develop a lasting vaccine. From The New York Times:
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“In the history of vaccinology, it’s the only one we update year to year,” said Gary J. Nabel, the director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
That has been the case ever since the flu vaccine was introduced in the 1950s. But a flurry of recent studies on the virus has brought some hope for a change. Dr. Nabel and other flu experts foresee a time when seasonal flu shots are a thing of the past, replaced by long-lasting vaccines.
“That’s the goal: two shots when you’re young, and then boosters later in life. That’s where we’d like to go,” Dr. Nabel said. He predicted that scientists would reach that goal before long — “in our lifetime, for sure, unless you’re 90 years old,” he said.
Thursday, August 30th, 2012
New research adds to the evidence that flu shots are safe for pregnant women, finding that they do not increase the risk of birth defects, Reuters reports.
Scientists studied 9,000 pregnant women who received the flu shot and found that the rate of birth defects in their babies was 2 percent, identical to the rate among 77,000 pregnant women who were not vaccinated. The study was published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Interestingly, women who received a flu shot were less likely to suffer a stillbirth. It’s not clear why, but lead researcher Jeanne Sheffield of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center suspects the vaccine might help by preventing severe cases of flu.
Despite recommendations to get the flu shot, most pregnant women do not. In the U.S., only between 10 percent and one-quarter of women have been vaccinated each flu season over the last couple decades, Sheffield’s team notes.
Based on studies, that seems largely due to safety worries.
On the other hand, Sheffield said “it’s amazing” how many women are unaware that the flu itself is considered a risk during pregnancy.
“The flu is a problem in pregnancy,” she said. “But we have a vaccine to prevent it. And it’s considered safe and effective in any trimester.”
Image: Woman gets flu shot via Shutterstock.
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