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
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
Tuesday, November 13th, 2012
A new study in the journal Pediatrics has found that women who had the flu or prolonged fever during pregnancy were twice as likely to have an autistic child than those who did not.
The researchers involved in the study wrote: “We found almost a twofold increased risk of infantile autism in the child after self-reported infection with influenza virus during pregnancy,” which suggests that the mother’s immune response may affect a child’s developing brain. However, women who reported other infections during pregnancy, such as a cold or UTI, were not any more likely to have a child with autism. Health officials said the finding reinforces their recommendations that pregnant women should get flu shots, which will protect the mother and baby for the first six months after birth.
Additionally, researchers found that women who had a fever lasting a week or longer—either caused by the flu or unrelated to the flu—were three times as likely to give birth to a child with autism, which supports findings from a recent study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
“It is important to bear in mind that when you look at the absolute numbers, we see that around 99 percent of women reporting to have had influenza or fever during pregnancy, do not have children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder),” researcher Dr. Hjördis Ósk Atladóttir of the University of Aarhus in Denmark told NBC. “We want to reassure women. In this study, most women who experienced flu or prolonged fever or who were taking antibiotics did not have children with an autism spectrum disorder,” asserted Boyle.
Image: Sick pregnant woman via Shutterstock
Monday, November 5th, 2012
A new government study is suggesting that schools might want to consider closing during serious flu outbreaks, as doing so will lower the number of children who wind up in the emergency room because of their symptoms. From Reuters:
The study, reported in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, looked at what happened in two Texas communities during the H1N1 “swine” flu epidemic of 2009. In one community, schools were closed as a precaution; in the other, they weren’t.
It turned out that in the district where schools shut down, there were fewer ER visits for the flu.
What’s more, among kids age 6 and up, there was no increase in flu-related ER trips, while that rate doubled in the community where schools stayed open.
“The effect was most dramatic among school-age children,” said Dr. Martin S. Cetron, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There have been skeptics who’ve doubted that school closures could have much impact during a major flu outbreak, according to Cetron.
“They’ve said, well, people will just congregate in malls or other public places,” explained Cetron, who directs the CDC’s division of global migration and quarantine, and worked on the study.
But schools are different from malls, Cetron pointed out, with kids being in close contact with each other all day long.
He said he thinks this study, along with others, “settles” the question of whether school closures are effective. “Should this be an arrow in our quiver? I think the answer is ‘yes,’” Cetron said.
Image: Closed school, via i4lcocl2 / Shutterstock.com
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:
“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.