H1N1 Flu Pandemic: Is it over?

August 12, 2010 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

It started with a bang and ended with nary a whimper. It didn’t even make the headlines. On Tuesday, August 10, 2010, the World health Organization (WHO) declared end to 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. And nobody cheered or paid any attention. The declaration came from the WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan and was based on “strong indications that influenza, worldwide, is transitioning toward seasonal patterns of transmission.

“The world is no longer in phase 6 of influenza pandemic alert. We are now moving into the post-pandemic period. “ – WHO

The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course. After all the scare and the hype of last year’s swine epidemic that turned into a so-called pandemic that didn’t materialize, many people felt let down and cheated. Pharma companies made millions of bucks from the H1N1 vaccines. And that is just the vaccines ordered and administered for the high-risk populations. Nobody knows how many more doses have been stockpiled by governments.

Was it all for nothing? Is the swine flu really gone?

Unfortunately not. It is still circulating around. But it is not causing widespread infections anymore that it has been stripped of its scary status as a pandemic blue.

According to a press release of the US Department of Health and Social Services:

“This does not mean that the H1N1 virus has disappeared.  Rather, it means current influenza outbreaks including those primarily caused by the 2009 H1N1 virus, show an intensity similar to that seen during seasonal epidemics. Pandemics, like the viruses that cause them, are unpredictable.  WHO noted that continued vigilance is extremely important, and it is likely that the virus will continue to cause serious disease in younger age groups and pregnant women, at least in the immediate post-pandemic period.”

I am one of those who took the H1N1 pandemic threat seriously. I fought to have myself and my two kids vaccinated. Do I feel let down and cheated? No, I don’t. Because I know that although I and my family were lucky enough to escape the swine flu, there were those who weren’t so lucky and experienced it – some with serious consequences.

Did it ever occur to you that the pandemic may not have materialized because all the so-called “hype” and “unnecessary” measures actually kept the pandemic at bay and saved countless of lives?

The pandemic flu did not materialize. I don’t feel disappointed. I am grateful.

Did we learn something from the H1N1 pandemic?

I am sure we all did, from the government leaders, international policy makers, scientists and health experts, doctors and other health care providers, to us simple people

We shouldn’t think of last year’s flu pandemic as something similar to “crying wolf”. We shouldn’t become complacent, indifferent and disbelieving just because “only” hundreds instead of thousands died of the swine flu.

Yes, I believe the threat of a pandemic is still real.  I just hope we make use of the lessons we learned last year when the next epidemic knocks at our door.

Flu updates, December 5

December 4, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

swine flu4It’s been a while since I brought you some flu updates… Here are your updates for this weekend.

CDC: Swine flu less widespread, down to 32 states
Finally, some good news about the flu swine from the Centers of Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). It seems to be on the wane in the US. Infection was widespread in 48 states in October and in 43 states in early November. As of November 21, it was down to 32 states. Unfortunately, the number of deaths especially among children does not seem to be waning. There were 27 new lab-confirmed H1N1 deaths in the under 18 year olds on that week, the highest weekly toll so far. There are reports that the H1N1 flu activity in Canada is also easing. In most parts of Europe, the epidemic is just reaching its peak. Health officials at the CDC, however warns that it may not be over yet. They expect to see another peak right after the Christmas holidays when children go back to school.

H1N1 activity waxes, wanes: WHO
In fact, flu expert at the World Health Organization (WHO) Keiji Fukuda believes we may not be out of the wood yet. Reports show that the flu is peaking, even waning in some areas. “I think it’s a little bit early to begin those discussions now because we are still in a period where some countries are still increasing in terms of infections, even though in some countries, such as the United States and Canada, it looks like infections and cases are going down.”

FDA Approves Additional Vaccine for 2009 H1N1 Influenza Virus
The US FDA approved another vaccine against the H1N1 flu in November. This was the 5th vaccine to be approved in the US and is manufactured by ID Biomedical Corp. of Quebec, Canada, owned by GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK).

WHO approves Glaxo’s swine flu shot
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also certified one of GSK’s flu vaccine made in Canada for distribution in 95low-income countries. This vaccine contains an adjuvant which will boost the immune system.
A batch of the same vaccine was withdrawn last month due to the high incidence of allergic reactions.

Flu.gov on Twitter
To spread the flu news faster that the flu bug is spreading, health authorities in the US is using social media particularly twitter.  The FluGov twitter bio says “One-stop access to U.S. Government H1N1, avian and pandemic flu information.”  Check out the latest webcast in a briefing by CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden.

WHO: Clinical Management of Human Infection with Pandemic (H1N1) 2009: Revised Guidance
WHO also issued a revision of the H1N1 flu guidelines which included

Photo credit:stock.xchng

Children with asthma more susceptible to H1N1 flu

November 23, 2009 by  
Filed under ASTHMA

Children have been shown to be highly vulnerable when it comes to catching the H1N1 flu. Furthermore, children with asthma seem to be more likely to develop serious symptoms and complications. This is according to a study conducted by researchers from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The researchers looked at the charts of 58 pediatric H1N1 patients admitted to the said hospital between May and July of this year and compared them with 200 other pediatric patients who were admitted due to the seasonal flu from 2004 and 2008. The study showed that

  • Children admitted for H1N1 flu tended to be older (5 years or older) than those admitted for seasonal flu.
  • 84% of H1N1 pediatric patients had fever and cough; 37% had gastrointestinal problems including diarrhea and vomiting
  • 22% of children who had the H1N1 flu had asthma; only 6% of those who had the seasonal had asthma.
  • Almost 50% of pediatric patients admitted to the ICU due to H1N1 flu had asthma.
  • In larger samples, 21 to 30% of hospitalizes H1N1 cases are linked to asthma.

According to researcher Dr. Upton Allen

“The most striking finding in our study was the high prevalence of asthma among children admitted with pandemic H1N1 influenza compared with those admitted in previous influenza seasons. Asthma has been identified as a significant risk factor for admission with pandemic H1N1 influenza, present in 21%-30% in the larger samples.”

This finding indicates that asthma is a major risk factor for severe H1N1 symptoms especially in children, even among those with mild asthma. The authors recommend that children with asthma be considered as high risk individuals and should be vaccinated for H1N1 and considered fro antiviral therapy.

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, 138 deaths among children have been attributed to the H1N1 influenza virus infections in US from August 30 to November 14, 2009. This number could be broken down into the following age groups:

Epidemiology experts believe that the best way to control the H1N1 flu is to start vaccinating children. According to Dr. David Kimberlin of the University of Alabama at Birmingham

“Children are the highest-risk group for spreading the virus among themselves, and as a consequence, spreading it around their community… Like a bull’s-eye, the middle of the target is what you vaccinate so you don’t see infections in the concentric rings around the center. The center of the protection bull’s-eye should be children.”

Flu updates, November 10

November 10, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

swine flu4Pandemic (H1N1) 2009, Ukraine
The Ministry of Health of Ukraine reported more than 250,000 cases with flu-like symptoms this week. 235 patients have been admitted to intensive case and 70 deaths have been reported.

H1N1 infects pet cat, ferrets
Pets may also get the H1N1 flu. Unlike humans, they are not eligible for the vaccine as there isn’t enough to go around. A 13-year old cat was for H1N1 flu at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Ferrets were also reported to have caught the flu from their human families. Experts, however, believe that these cases are rare.

Venezuela: Indians Die From Swine Flu
At least five Yanonami Indians in the Amazon died from the H1N1 flu, the New York Times report. The flu has spread to the South American rain forests and is affecting the indigenous community.

H1N1 deaths highest in those 50 and older
The young are most like to get it but the old are most likely to die from it, at least in California. The analysis of California cases  revealed the following:

  • 1,088 hospitalized cases from April 23 to August 11, 2009.
  • 32% were younger than 18.
  • Median age was 27 years
  • 7% of children who died were under 18.
  • Highest rate of fatalities is 11%, among the 50 plus age group.

Most fatal cases had underlying medical conditions such as obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and gastrointestinal disease. The most common causes of death were viral pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

FDA Warns of Unapproved and Illegal H1N1 Drug Products Purchased Over the Internet
Drugs and other remedies purported to be effective against the H1N1 flu are being sold over the Internet and the US FDA has issued a warning to consumers. The FDA itself is investigating the online vendor by placing orders. The products were then analysed by the FDA labs and most proved to be bogus or impure.
According to FDA Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

“Products that are offered for sale online with claims to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus must be carefully evaluated. Medicines purchased from Web sites operating outside the law put consumers at increased risk due to a higher potential that the products will be counterfeit, impure, contaminated, or have too little or too much of the active ingredient.”

Health Canada issued a similar warning this week.

Officials Defend Distribution of Flu Vaccine to Companies
Because of the shortage of H1N1 vaccines, US health officials have to prioritize who gets the shots. Which why people are wondering why Wall Street banks are getting some of those doses in New York City, according to this New York Times report. According to a NYC health department spokesperson, the priority is to get the vaccines to “pediatricians, obstetricians, gynecologists, community health centers and public and private hospitals.” However, private companies may also be able to get the vaccine as long as the shots are given to high risk employees, e.g. pregnant women and those with serious chronic conditions. The vaccine allocation in NYC is as follows:

  • 39% for school vaccination programs
  • 21% for paediatricians
  • 19% for hospitals
  • 6% for health services employees

Photo credit: stock.xchng

What’s new with the flu, October 6

October 6, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

swine_fluThis morning, I am bringing you the latest news from the flu front.

Flu fears prompt review of hockey handshake
Can a handshake give you the flu? Apparently, sports officials in Canada are reviewing whether the traditional handshake after a hockey match should be put aside for the time being as part of the many measures to prevent of flu, seasonal or H1N1. They are not alone in putting hygiene over sportsmanship. Some of the local football (soccer to North Americans) clubs in Europe have already received instructions to leave out end-of-match handshakes. At least the hockey players have gloves on. The football players, except for the goalkeeper haven’t.

Aspirin misuse may have made 1918 flu pandemic worse
Researchers are looking more and more into the historical records of the 1918 pandemic flu in order to find ways to beat the current flus. And one of their findings is that many people who had the 1918 flu did not die of the virus itself but of aspirin toxicity. At that time, aspirin was the wonder drug that can control fever and headaches, common symptoms of the flu. Unfortunately, the doing levels then were not properly established so that many patients suffered side effects of aspiring overdose which included build up of fluid in the lungs, leading high incidence of pneumonia, secondary bacterial infection and death. According to Dr. Karen Starko, one of the study authors:

“Understanding these natural forces is important when considering choices in the future. Interventions cut both ways. Medicines can save and improve our lives. Yet we must be ever mindful of the importance of dose, of balancing benefits and risks, and of the limitations of our studies.”

Sugary Mix Is Just What the Flu Doctor Ordered
Tamiflu is in short supply and it is unlikely that the stockpiles will be enough for everybody. The manufacturer of Tamiflu is stepping up the manufacturing process and does not have time to produce the drug in children’s version, e.g. in syrup form with artificial flavouring. However, Tamiflu prescribing recommendations include instructions to pharmacists of mixing the pills with cherry syrup and purified water for children.

Flu vaccine may protect against MI
Vaccination against the flu may have an added benefit – it may also protect people from having a heart attack, according to British researchers. Acute respiratory infections that come with the flu can trigger heart attacks in people with underlying heart conditions.  According to head author Dr. Charlotte Warren-Gash:

“Our key message for health professionals seeing patients with heart disease is to encourage influenza vaccination in this group, not only to protect them from influenza infection itself but also from complications such as heart attacks.”

Photo credit: stock.xchng

What’s the latest in health care, June 15

June 15, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

world_stet21Late last week, there were several events that may have a major impact on health care so that I deemed it wise to have a special health care update post first thing on Monday morning.

What’s the latest on the H1N1 flu epidemic?

What’s the latest health-related legislations?

  • Senate passes the most sweeping tobacco-control bill
    Also last week on June 11, the US Senate passed then Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a historic and unprecedented legislation that gives the US Food and Drug Administration full authority to regulate tobacco and tobacco products. For details on the new tobacco bill, see post at Battling Cancer.
  • Rhode Island Senate passes medical marijuana bill
    Another medically-related legislation was passed last week. Rhode Island becomes the third state in the US to allow selling marijuana for medical purposes. The patients qualified for medical marijuana include those suffering from chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s disease. The marijuana will be sold by licensed dispensaries run by non-profit organizations.

 

Have a nice week!

 

Photo credit: stock.xchng

Update on the swine/Mexican flu epidemic

April 30, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

The pandemic alert level of 5 out of a 6-point scale has been declared by the World Health Organization with regards to the swine or Mexican flu. The flu which was originally reported in Mexico has spread in the North American continent to infect people in the United States (91) and Canada (13). The first fatal case in the US was reported on Wednesday, 29 April in Texas.

In Europe and the rest of the world, the following confirmed cases have been reported on 30 April 2009, 08:00 CEST.

  • Austria (1)
  • Costa Rica (2)
  • Germany (3)
  • Israel (2)
  • New Zealand (14)
  • Peru (1)
  • Spain (10)
  • United Kingdom (5)

As of noon today, 30 April 2009, Switzerland announced its first confirmed case.

The rapidity of how the virus “jumped” continents is largely attributed to the ease of global travel nowadays. Almost all confirmed cases outside North America have been in Mexico recently.

It is very easy to get confused about all the reports coming different sectors, be it from the media, from health authorities to conspiracy theorists.

To keep yourself updated, check put the following recommended sites:

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). The CDC has done/is doing the following:

  • implemented its emergency response and released part of its stockpile of medications for use.
  • issued new interim guidance for doctors on how to care for children and pregnant women who might get infected.
  • gives regular updates

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) is issuing updates for Europe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has done/is doing the following:

  • coordinates with health officials of different countries to facilitate reporting and monitoring
  • issues alerts and updates

Some useful and practical info to prepare yourself (aside from what the aforementioned sites can give you) can be found at WedMD:

The most important survival tip of all: be alert but do not panic!

Photo credit: stock. xchng

Newsbreaker in health care: public health emergency due to swine flu in the US

April 26, 2009 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE


As of Sunday, April 26, 2009, the number of confirmed cases of swine flu in the US has reached 20. In view of the current situation, the federal government has declared a public health emergency, according to major news networks.

However, health officials emphasize that there is no cause for panic. According to the New York Times, the emergency declaration frees government resources to be used toward diagnosing or preventing additional cases, and releases money for more antiviral drugs.

The breakdown of the 20 confirmed cases of swine flu are as follows:

  • 8 in New York
  • 7 in California
  • 2 in Kansas
  • 2 in Texas
  • 1 in Ohio

The swine flu could possibly have come from Mexico where about 1,300 people have been infected and resulted in 80 fatalities.

Canada has also confirmed 4 cases in Nova Scotia. Other countries which have reported suspected but unconfirmed cases are New Zealand, Hong Kong and Spain. Many countries are watching out and are considering about travel restrictions to and from North America. So far, the cases in the US and Canada presented with very mild symptoms and only resulted in one hospitalization. However, the health officials all over the world, coordinated by the World Health Organization, are on alert for a possible pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has set up a site to inform the public about swine flu:

Swine Influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza that regularly cause outbreaks of influenza among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread of swine flu viruses has been documented. From December 2005 through February 2009, a total of 12 human infections with swine influenza were reported from 10 states in the United States. Since March 2009, a number of confirmed human cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection in the U.S. and internationally have been identified. An investigation into these cases is ongoing.

Here are some recommendations from the CDC on how to protect yourself from swine flu:

According to the CDC, the symptoms of swine flu are very similar to the seasonal flu and “include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting associated with swine flu. In the past, severe illness (pneumonia and respiratory failure) and deaths have been reported with swine flu infection in people. Like seasonal flu, swine flu may cause a worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions.”

Swine flu is mainly transmitted from person to person through coughing and sneezing. It is advisable to stay away from people with flu symptoms. If you experience symptoms, stay at home. If the symptoms worsen, see your doctor.

To learn more about swine flu, check out this podcast with CDC’s Dr. Joe Bresee.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=OuBis8PX_UQ

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.