Stories tagged influenza

May
01
2009

A research group led by Dirk Brockmann at Northwestern University has created a computer model that predicts the spread of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus in the US. (It uses a complex set of mathematical equations to describe the movement of people and virus.)

How can you track and predict the movement of something so small?: Follow the money, of course! (This is a colorized negative stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM) showing some of the ultrastructural morphology of the A/CA/4/09 swine flu virus. Got that? Good.
How can you track and predict the movement of something so small?: Follow the money, of course! (This is a colorized negative stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM) showing some of the ultrastructural morphology of the A/CA/4/09 swine flu virus. Got that? Good.Courtesy CDC/C.S. Goldsmith and A. Balish

(Brockmann was a guest on Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning show today, and you can listen to it online.)

The good news is that, based on what we know now, and assuming that no one takes any preventive measures, we could expect to see some 1,700 cases of swine flu in the next four weeks. Because of the preventive measures being taken wherever a suspected case of H1N1 flu has popped up, we should actually see fewer cases. (You can see Brockmann's models here.) That's lousy if you're one of the folks who picks up the virus, but not a devastating number of cases. Of course, this is a rapidly developing, fluid situation, and things may change. Still, tools like Brockmann's model help to ensure that emergency supplies and other resources get to the places likely to need them most before they're needed.

Professor's Computer Simulations Show Worst-Case Swine Flu Scenario from Northwestern News on Vimeo.

Don't have faith in computer models? Well, a second research group at Indiana University is using another model, with different equations, and getting very similar results. That's a pretty good indication that the predictions are reliable.

You might remember Brockmann from a 2006 study that used data from WheresGeorge.com, a site that allows users to enter the serial numbers from their dollar bills in order to see where they go, to predict the probability of a given bill remaining within a 10km radius over time. That gave him a very good picture of human mobility, reflecting daily commuting traffic, intermediate traffic, and long-distance air travel, all of which help to model how a disease could spread.

Apr
30
2009

Department of Health and Human Services
Department of Health and Human ServicesCourtesy Department of Health and Human Services

H1N1 Flu information

If you want valid information about Influenza A(H1N1), You should first check out the official disease control websites.

Here are some of the official web pages of our national and world leadership for information about fighting disease.

Also embeded is a webcast where public questions about the 2009 flu pandemic are answered by Acting Director of CDC, Dr. Besser.

Use the links below for official information about Influenza A(H1N1)

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  2. PandemicFlu.gov
  3. CDC H1N1 flu information
  4. H1N1 Flu questions & answers
  5. World Health Organization info

President Obama's flu message

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Watch a webcast answering questions about the 2009 flu pandemic

Apr
30
2009

Is this the face of a pandemic threat?
Is this the face of a pandemic threat?Courtesy The Pug Father
No need to put down your pork chops, as health officials are quick to remind us: you can't get swine flu from eating products made from pigs. In fact, health officials have yet to find a pig with this particular strain of the virus. According to the CDC, the virus that's been making headlines this week contains not only pig, but also human and bird flu DNA. Viruses are complicated and mutate as they go from one host to the next, so it's difficult to tell just where novel strains originate. All of this has left many people to question whether it's appropriate to call the virus "swine flu" at all?

Pork producers say: leave pigs out of this!

They're afraid that the name "swine flu" will cause demand for their products to plummet, and have asked government officials and the news media to call the virus by it's scientific name, H1N1, which refers to the serotype of the virus - its particular chemical make-up. It's a rational fear on their part. Some countries have already banned meat and pork products from Mexico and parts of the US due to fear over the spread of the disease.

What do you think? Would a flu by any other name...smell like meat? When it comes to novel viruses like this one, what's in a name?

Apr
26
2009

Pandemic prevention in Mexico City
Pandemic prevention in Mexico CityCourtesy Chupacabras

No mass at Cathedral of Mexico City Sunday

In addition to churches, Mexico closed schools, museums, libraries and theaters, hoping to contain the outbreak of a swine flu variety that is killing people. Officials say as many as 81 people have died and more than 1,300 others are sickened from a new type of flu.

The virus contains genetic pieces from four different flu viruses; North American swine influenza, North American avian influenza, human influenza A N1H1, and swine influenza viruses found in Asia and Europe.

Swine flu symptoms

Symptoms of the flu-like illness include a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius), body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea. Click this link for more key facts about swine influenza (swine flu).

Global swine flu alert

China, Russia and Taiwan plan to put anyone with symptoms of the deadly virus under quarantine. Ten students from New Zealand who took a school trip to Mexico "likely" caught this swine flu. Four possible cases of swine flu are currently under investigation in France. More than 100 students at the St. Francis Preparatory School, in Queens, New York recently began suffering a fever, sore throat and aches and pains. Some of them had recently been in Mexico.

"The United States government is working with the World Health Organization and other international partners to assure early detection and warning and to respond as rapidly as possible to this threat," Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the CDC, said during a Friday afternoon press briefing.

How to track illnesses globally

There are several useful online resources that track health information and disease outbreaks.

  1. The World Health Organization (WHO) has an Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response (EPR) webpage.

    As of 26 April 2009, the United States Government has reported 20 laboratory confirmed human cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 (8 in New York, 7 in California, 2 in Texas, 2 in Kansas and 1 in Ohio).

  2. HealthMap is a website that aggregates news feeds from the WHO, Google News, ProMED, and elsewhere to map out all of the disease outbreaks. (Click the box in front of influenza under "Diseases, last 30 days" to see just flu cases.)

What is a pandemic?

The WHO's pandemic alert level is currently up to phase 3. The organization said the level could be raised to phase 4 if the virus shows sustained ability to pass from human to human. Phase 5 would be reached if the virus is found in at least two countries in the same region.

"The declaration of phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short," WHO said. Associated Press

Phase 6 would indicate a full-scale global pandemic.

Sources:

I thought we were done with the flu season this year - but the CDC reports seven cases of a new strain of swine influenza A (H1N1). Check out the CDC alert and this Reuters article.

Jan
14
2009

A new law in New Jersey and a new book brings vaccines into the news again. A New Jersey law now requires parents to get influenza vaccine for their preschool age children as well as other vaccines for their older school age children. For more detailed information read this article in the New York Times or review the requirements on the New Jersey Department of Health website.

I have to say that as a parent of small children, I want to know that the children they hang-out with all day have been vaccinated. Vaccines don't always produce the intended immunity and I don't want them getting sick with anything more serious than the usual infections. Actually I don't want them to get sick at all - but I can't control everything.

A new book written by Paul Offit, a pediatrician, called Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure defends vaccines. The book traces the history of autism theories and is widely supported by by pediatricians, autism researchers, vaccine companies and medical journalists. See this article for more information about the book. It sounds like it could be a great resource. We need to remember how bad some of these diseases are that we are trying to prevent. Many children have died from infectious diseases - I'm happy we can prevent many of them.

Minnesota has recorded its first culture-confirmed case of influenza for the 2008-09 season in a 39-year-old man from Chisago County. The man's illness was caused by the A (H1) strain of the virus, the Minnesota Department of Health reported today. The man's virus is a good match for this year's vaccine, health officials said.

It is not too late to get your influenza vaccine! The peak influenza season usually occurs in February and it takes only 2 weeks after the vaccination to develop immunity. The best news is this year's vaccination is a good match to the first confirmed case. For a full report from the Minnesota Department of Health see this link.

Aug
20
2008

This week two new findings were published about the 1918 influenza pandemic. The first looked at preserved lung tissue from soldiers that died from the pandemic. They examined 58 samples and found that in most cases the predominant disease at the time of death appeared to have been bacterial pneumonia. It is hypothesized that influenza virus damaged the cells of the tissue lining the lung allowing the bacteria to invade and eventually led to death of the host. The authors of the study concluded:

“if severe pandemic influenza is largely a problem of viral-bacterial copathogenesis [double infection], pandemic planning needs to go beyond addressing the viral cause alone (e.g., influenza vaccines and antiviral drugs). Prevention, diagnosis, prophylaxis, and treatment of secondary bacterial pneumonia, as well as stockpiling of antibiotics and bacterial vaccines, should also be high priorities for pandemic planning.”

Click here to read the original scientific article in the Journal of Infectious Disease or here to read a ScienceDaily news report

The second finding examined if people that survived the flu had antibodies against the 1918 influenza pandemic in their body. The researchers collected blood samples from 32 survivors age 91-101 years and found that all reacted to the 1918 virus, suggesting that they still possessed antibodies to the virus. One of the researchers, Dr. James Crowe Jr., stated

"The B cells have been waiting for at least 60 years – if not 90 years – for that flu to come around again. That's amazing…because it's the longest memory anyone's ever demonstrated."

The research team went on to see if the antibody protected against the 1918 strain of influenza by infecting mice with the influenza. Some had been treated with the antibodies – others had not. They found that the mice receiving the highest dose of antibodies survived and the others died. For a well written summary of the research in ScienceDaily click here.

Jul
14
2008

Flu vaccine: This is CDC Clinic Chief Nurse Lee Ann Jean-Louis extracting Influenza Virus Vaccine, Fluzone® from a 5 ml. vial.
Flu vaccine: This is CDC Clinic Chief Nurse Lee Ann Jean-Louis extracting Influenza Virus Vaccine, Fluzone® from a 5 ml. vial.Courtesy CDC/Jim Gathany

Did you know back in February scientist and medical professionals selected the influenza virus strains for the upcoming flu season? Now that it is July the pharmaceutical companies are well into manufacturing, purification and testing the vaccine. Meanwhile, it is winter and flu season in the southern hemisphere and the virus is busy mutating. The big question on everyone’s mind is will it mutate so much that the northern hemisphere vaccine will be ineffective?
I agree with Dr. Steven Salzberg remarks in his recent Nature commentary

"The current system, in which most of the world’s vaccine supply is grown in chicken eggs, is an antiquated, inefficient method requiring six months or more to ramp up production, which in turn means that the vaccine strains must be chosen far in advance of each flu season. More crucially it sometimes prevents the use of the optimal strain, as it did in 2007."

Influenza (the flu) is a serious disease
Each year in the United States, on average:

  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and;
  • About 36,000 people die from flu.

Some vaccine problems in the past
In recent years the match between the vaccine viruses and those identified during the flu season has usually been good. In 16 of the last 20 U.S. influenza seasons, including the 2007-08 season, the viruses in the influenza vaccine have been well matched to the predominant circulating viruses. Since 1988, there has only been one season (1997-98) when there was very low cross-reaction between the viruses in the vaccine and the predominate circulating virus and three seasons (1992-93, 2003-04, and 2007-08) when there was low cross-reaction (CDC). So after last year’s miscalculation the committee picked three new strains for the vaccine this year. One is a current southern hemisphere vaccine virus which they expect will still be present next year. In addition, they predict a second new Type A strain, known as H1N1/Brisbane/59, to also hit, along with a newer Type B/Florida strain.

Dr. Salzberg feels last year’s miscalculation was a failure…

"The harm was thus twofold; people fell ill and their trust in the vaccine system was undermined. This failure could have been predicted, if not prevented, through a more open system of vaccine design, a stronger culture of sharing in the influenza research community and a serious commitment to new technologies for production. The habits of the vaccine community must change for the sake of public health."

He goes on to suggest…

"The process of choosing flu-vaccine strains needs to be much more open. Other scientists, such as those in evolutionary biology with expertise in sequence analysis, could meaningfully contribute to the selection. At present, external scientists cannot review the data that went into the decision, nor can they suggest other types of data that might improve it."

Even with all of these miscalculations, I still feel getting the vaccine is worth the risk. But that doesn’t mean the process shouldn’t be improved. So once again I will be vaccinated and I will make sure my family is too—but what can we do as citizens to improve this process? What will you do?

Mar
25
2008

Researchers at Veredus Laboratories and STMicroelectronics developed VereFlu™, a small and automated diagnostic test that rapidly detects all major influenza types.

Why is this significant?
Current rapid tests can detect:

  • only influenza A viruses
  • both influenza A and B viruses, but doesn't distinguish between the two types
  • both influenza A and B and distinguish between the two

None of the rapid tests provide any information about influenza A subtypes. VereFlu™ is highly sensitive, accurate and it can identify and differentiate human strains of Influenza A and its subtypes and B viruses, including the Avian Flu strain H5N1, in a single test. A test like this currently needs to be done in specialized labs and can take days or weeks for results.

From the company’s press release:

“VereFlu™ will enable healthcare professionals to effectively monitor mutations of flu viruses and quickly identify the main strain of the season,” said Dr Rosemary Tan, Chief Executive Officer of Veredus Laboratories. “This unique capability can significantly increase the effectiveness of flu vaccination and reduce public health risks associated with the emergence of a new flu virus.”

An exciting collaboration
VereFlu™ is the market’s first test which has integrated two powerful molecular biological applications into a new test the size of a fingernail. Combining Veredus Laboratories’ expertise in developing diagnostic tests and STMicroelectornics expertise in ST’s microfluidic lab-on-chip technology has created this new product. The two companies are planning to work together to develop additional diagnostic tests. They have set up a new venture in Singapore called Bio-Application Lab.

This new test sounds really cool and it got me wondering about how it works. I will contact the company and add to the post if I find out!