Category Archives: Influenza

Global Health News – October 24th

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Get your flu shot now, state health officials say

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Flu virus - courtesy of NAIAD

Flu virus – courtesy of NAIAD

Flu can be serious and deadly; get vaccinated now before people are sick

 Flu season is upon us and although state health officials don’t know exactly when the flu will strike, how serious it will be or how long the season will last, they do know that it spreads every year and now is the time to get vaccinated against this serious, sometimes deadly virus.

 “The first and most important thing you can do to protect yourself from flu is to get vaccinated every year,” says State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “Flu vaccine is available now in most provider offices and pharmacies across the state and getting it now will provide protection throughout the season. It’s not too early.” Continue reading

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Vaccination rates lower among US adults born abroad

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Vaccine SquareBy Milly Dawson
Health Behavior News Service

Nationality at birth appears to play a significant role in whether or not adults in the United States are routinely vaccinated for preventable diseases, a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds, reflecting a risky medical lapse for more than one in ten people nationwide.

Foreign-born adult U.S. residents, who make up about 13 percent of the population, receive vaccinations at significantly lower rates than U.S.-born adults.

Foreign-born adult U.S. residents make up about 13 percent of the population.

This gap poses special risks for certain groups of people who are vulnerable to many serious and sometimes deadly diseases that vaccines can prevent.

The study’s lead author, Peng-Jun Lu, MD, PhD, a researcher at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted the rise in the foreign-born population in the United States, which stood at only five percent in 1970.

“As their numbers continue to rise, it will become increasingly important to consider this group in our efforts to increase vaccination and eliminate coverage disparities,” he said. Continue reading

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Immunization rates for Washington kids improve over last year

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From the Washington State Department of Health

child wincing while be given a shot injectionImmunization rates for Washington toddlers have improved from last year, according to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Immunization Survey.

The survey says 71 percent of kids under three years old in Washington got a series of recommended vaccines in 2013.

The state’s rate for the same series of vaccines in 2012 was 65 percent.

Pertussis vaccination still low and concerning in light of recent epidemic

Although rates have improved, they’re still below the Healthy People 2020 goal of 80 percent, leaving many kids unprotected.

For all vaccines counted, rates increased across the board except for DTaP, the vaccine that prevents pertussis (whooping cough).

This is especially concerning because of our state’s whooping cough epidemic in 2012. Continue reading

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Flu has hit young and middle-aged hard this winter – CDC

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Influenza viruses

Influenza viruses

Feb 20, 2014

The flu hit younger- and middle-age adults hard this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Thursday.

While the elderly tend to be most vulnerable to influenza, a large majority of those hospitalized with the flu this season, 61%, were people age 18-64 — a big jump from what was seen during the past three flu seasons in which people from this age group made up only about 35 percent of hospitalizations.

Influenza deaths this season are following a similar pattern, with people 25 years to 64 years of age accounting for about 60 percent of flu deaths compared with 18 percent, 30 percent, and 47 percent for the three previous seasons.   Continue reading

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Antibiotics don’t prevent complications of kids’ respiratory infections

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Three red and white capsulesBy Milly Dawson
HBNS Contributing Writer
FEB 18, 2014

Antibiotics are often prescribed for young children who have upper respiratory tract infections (URIs) in order to prevent complications, such as ear infections and pneumonia, however, a new evidence review in The Cochrane Library found no evidence to support this practice.  Continue reading

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It’s still not too late to get your flu shot

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A Consumer Update from the FDA

February 4, 2014

Flu shot todayMeant to get vaccinated in the fall to ward off the flu, but somehow didn’t get around to it?

Think it’s too late to get vaccinated now?

Not so. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), vaccinations can be protective as long as flu viruses are circulating.

And while seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, flu activity usually peaks in January or February, and can last well into May.  Continue reading

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5 fast facts about this year’s flu season — CDC

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Digitally-colorized image of a collection of influenza A virions. The predominant influenza A virus this year is H1N1 - CDC photo

Digitally-colorized image of a collection of influenza A virions. The predominant influenza A virus this year is H1N1.

From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Here are some things to know about the 2013-2014 flu season so far and steps you can take to protect yourself from flu.  Continue reading

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Flu widespread across state, nine confirmed deaths

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H1N1 viruses

H1N1 viruses

Flu is now widespread across the state and has caused at least nine flu deaths in Washington state since December, the Washington State Department of Health reported Wednesday.

It is likely the number flu deaths is higher because only laboratory confirmed cases must be reported to the state and in many cases laboratory testing is not done, health officials said.  Continue reading

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Flu virus - courtesy of NAIAD

Flu widespread in King County, young adults more vulnerable

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From Public Health – Seattle & King County

Seasonal flu widespread in King County, young adults more vulnerable than usual 

Now is the time to get vaccinated

If you’ve noticed more people are sick at work or at school, it might be the flu.  Infections are on the rise locally, as seasonal influenza has gone from barely detectable levels in early December to widespread in King County.

“It’s easy to get complacent about the flu, since we see it every year, but it brings real hardship and dangers,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization for Public Health – Seattle & King County.  “Catching the flu can not only disrupt your life, it can be severe enough to send you to the hospital.”

Two noteworthy aspects of this year’s flu season:

  • Younger adults face a greater risk of severe illness than usual. 

    Locally and across the US, healthcare providers are reporting an increase in severe influenza infections – requiring intensive hospital care for young and middle-age adults.

    The predominant strain circulating currently is influenza A H1N1, which happens to be the same one that led to the 2009 flu pandemic.

    This virus causes infections and severe illness in all ages, but compared to other influenza strains, it causes higher rates of illness and death among young and middle-age adults, including those with no underlying health conditions.

  • Pregnant women should get vaccinated at any stage of pregnancy.

    The flu vaccine is both safe and effective for pregnant women, including during the first trimester.

    Vaccinating during pregnancy protects not only the mother but the fetus and child as well. Newborn infants can’t be vaccinated until they’re six months old.

Anyone who lives with or cares for an infant younger than six months should also get vaccinated to protect the infant from getting flu.

Other members of the community at increased risk for severe influenza include the elderly and people who have long-term health problems, like diabetes, asthma, and heart or lung problems.

Flu vaccine is the best protection; other drugs also available

The flu vaccine is in plentiful supply, and it’s not too late to get vaccinated to reduce your chances of getting the flu.  Influenza activity generally peaks in January or later in our region and continues circulating until spring.

“Anyone six months and older who has not yet been vaccinated this season should get an influenza vaccine now to reduce their risk of illness,” said Duchin.

Another important line of protection is antiviral drugs, especially for people with severe influenza or at high risk of complications. Antiviral treatment should be started promptly if you are pregnant or in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms, including fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches.

Where to get flu vaccine

Flu vaccine (shots and nasal spray) is available at many healthcare provider offices and pharmacies for those who have insurance or are able to pay for vaccination. Visit http://flushot.healthmap.org to help find locations.

If you don’t have insurance, you can find free or low-cost insurance through Washington Healthplanfinder. Other immunization assistance is available through the Family Health Line at 800-322-2588.

For more information, visit www.kingcounty.gov/health/flu

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Flu spreading rapidly in Snohomish County, health officials warn

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Influenza viruses

Influenza viruses

From the Snohomish Health District:

Influenza is spreading rapidly in Snohomish County.  Local health providers report a significant uptick in positive flu tests in the past two weeks, and many of the sick are people younger than 65. Seven local people died of the flu during last year’s flu season.

The predominant strain nationally so far is H1N1, the same kind of virus that sickened much of the nation in 2009. During the 2009 pandemic, younger adults and children, particularly people with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women, were harder hit by H1N1 compared with adults age 65 and older. The same pattern could emerge this year if H1N1 circulates widely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report some severe illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths from H1N1 to date in the 2013-2014 flu season.

Three Washington state residents have died from flu so far this season (not in Snohomish County), and three have been hospitalized.

These severe flu outcomes are a reminder that flu can be a very serious disease for anyone, including young, healthy adults.

Visit www.flu.gov for more information about flu, and www.doh.wa.gov for statewide updates.

Flu activity in Snohomish County historically peaks in February or later. Last flu season, the deaths of seven people in Snohomish County were attributed to flu-related illness.

In the United States, over a recent 30-year period, the CDC reports that the flu was linked to thousands of deaths each year — ranging from 3,000 to 49,000.

The vaccine for this current flu season is available at medical providers and pharmacies throughout the county and will protect against three or four kinds of influenza virus — including H1N1 — that make people sick.

Washing hands, covering your coughs, and staying home when you are sick are effective ways to reduce spreading and getting diseases. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and others.

Everyone 6 months and older should get a shot every year, since the flu vaccine changes to match the most common illnesses. Flu shots do not contain live virus — getting the flu from this vaccine is not possible. 

The flu vaccine is strongly recommended for people who are

  • 6 months old — up to their 19th birthday
  • 50 years and older
  • age 6 months and older with certain chronic health conditions
  • pregnant and in any trimester
  • living in long-term care facilities
  • living with or caring for those at high risk for complications from the flu
  • health care personnel
  • household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of infants age 0-6 months (who are too young to receive vaccine)

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Extreme fatigue

Flu viruses spread when people with flu expel droplets from their mouths or noses while coughing, sneezing or talking. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.

People can also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose. A person can spread flu before they know they’re sick and up to seven days after. Children can spread it for even longer.

Again, the best way to avoid getting or spreading the flu is to get a flu shot, and also washing hands, covering coughs and staying home if sick.

If an individual is already sick with the flu, antiviral medications can lessen symptoms and help prevent serious complications. They work best when started quickly. It’s also important to stay away from others for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

The Snohomish Health District’s clinics in Everett and Lynnwood are stocked full of vaccine to protect you against the flu. The cost for an adult flu shot at the Snohomish Health District is $30. A flu shot for a child costs $15.

The Health District accepts payment by cash, check, VISA, MasterCard, Provider One (coupons), and Medicare for clients whose primary insurance is not with an HMO. Clients may apply for a reduced fee, based on income and household size.

Snohomish Health District clinic hours – shots by appointment only:

SHD Everett Immunization Clinic, 3020 Rucker Ave, Suite 108, Everett, WA 98201

  • Call 425.339.5220 for an appointment: 8 a.m.- 4 p.m., Mon-Wed-Fri; closed on weekends & holidays

SHD Lynnwood Immunization Clinic, 6101 200th Ave SW, Lynnwood, WA 98036

  • Call 425.775.3522 for an appointment: 8 a.m.- 4 p.m., Tue & Thu; closed on weekends & holidays
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How to protect yourself from the flu – Tips from Healthfinder.gov

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Flu virus - courtesy of NAIAD

Flu virus – courtesy of NAIAD

The Basics

Everyone age 6 months and older needs to get a flu shot (vaccine) every year. The seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu.

For many people, the seasonal flu is a mild illness. But for some people, the flu can lead to:

  • Serious infections like pneumonia (“noo-MOHN-yah”)
  • Hospitalization
  • Death

The flu spreads easily from person to person. When you get the flu shot, you don’t just protect yourself – you also protect everyone around you.

What is the flu?
The flu is caused by a virus that infects your nose, throat, and lungs. It’s easily spread from person to person.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches

Am I at high risk for complications from the flu?
For some people, the flu is more likely to lead to serious illness. If you are at high risk from the flu, get a flu shot as early as you can each year.

Groups at high risk from the flu include:

If you spend time with someone at high risk from the flu, you can protect both of you by getting a flu shot.

When do I need to get the seasonal flu shot?
Get the flu shot as soon as it’s available in your community each year. After you get the vaccine, your body takes about 2 weeks to develop protection against the flu. That’s why it’s a good idea to get the vaccine before flu season starts.

Flu season is different from year to year. It can start as early as October and last as late as May.

Can I get the nasal (nose) spray instead of the shot?
The flu vaccine can be given in a nasal spray or a shot. You may get the nasal spray if you:

  • Are between ages 2 and 49
  • Aren’t pregnant
  • Don’t have certain health conditions, like asthma or diabetes

Are there any side effects from the seasonal flu vaccine?
Some people may have mild side effects. These side effects begin soon after the vaccine is given and usually last 1 to 2 days. Most people don’t have any side effects after getting the flu vaccine.

Flu shot
People who get the flu shot sometimes feel sore where they got the shot. You can’t get the flu from the flu shot because it’s made from killed flu viruses.

Flu nasal spray
People who get the nasal spray may have a stuffy nose or headache afterward. The flu viruses in the nasal spray are weakened and can’t cause the flu.

Take Action!

You can get a flu shot at your doctor’s office or clinic. You may also be able to get a flu shot from your local health department, pharmacy, or employer.

Find a flu clinic near you.
Use this flu clinic locator  to find out where you can get a flu shot near you.

What about cost?
The seasonal flu vaccine is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get the flu vaccine at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

If you have Medicare Part B, your flu shot is free.

Fight the flu.
Getting the flu vaccine is the most important step in protecting yourself from the flu. Here are some other things you can do to keep from getting and spreading the flu:

  • Stay away from people who are sick with the flu.
  • If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizer).
  • Try not to touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
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Public Health – Seattle & King County offers free flu shot clinics – Saturday, Nov. 2nd

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Flu virus - courtesy of NAIAD

Public Health – Seattle & King County is offering free flu vaccination clinics on Saturday, November 2 to make flu vaccine more widely available to people without health insurance or who are unable to pay.

“Flu vaccine offers the single best protection against the flu,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunization for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Getting vaccinated is especially important for pregnant women, people in contact with infants who are too young to vaccinate, and also to people with health conditions that put them at greater risk for severe illness and hospitalization.”

Health experts recommend flu vaccine for all people six months and older, especially for pregnant women and people who have long-term health problems, like diabetes, asthma, and heart or lung problems.

Anyone who lives with or cares for an infant younger than six months should also get vaccinated to protect the infant from getting flu.

Where to get free vaccine

The free flu vaccination clinics will be held at Public Health Centers at the following locations on Saturday, November 2 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.:

Columbia Public Health Center

4400 37th Ave S, Seattle, 206-296-4650

Eastgate Public Health Center

14350 SE Eastgate Way, Bellevue, 206-296-4920

Federal Way Public Health Center

33431 13th Place S, Federal Way, 206-296-8410

Renton Public Health Center

3001 NE 4th St., Renton, 206-296-4700

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Federal shutdown alarms state health officials

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Photo: James Gathany/CDC

Photo: James Gathany/CDC

By Melissa Maynard
StatelineStaff Writer

This week more than 11,000 U.S. Muslims are expected to join millions of other pilgrims in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. When the Americans return home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments will be watching for any sign of the MERS virus that has caused severe acute respiratory illness in 140 people since 2012, killing about half of them.

But because of the shutdown of the federal government, about 9,000 of the CDC’s 15,000 workers have been furloughed. James Blumenstock, chief of public health practice for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said states are concerned that the absence of those workers might slow down identification and response to MERS cases if the virus spreads to the U.S.

Since the shutdown, the CDC’s bi-weekly conference calls with state health officials to share new information about MERS and other emerging global threats have stopped, Blumenstock said. “Since Oct. 1, we have not scheduled one or had the opportunity to talk to anyone about scheduling the next one.”

MERS is just one of many possible public health risks state health officials are worried about handling without the full support of the CDC and other federal agencies. Another big one within U.S. borders is the flu season that began Oct. 1.

In a Wednesday conference call with state health officials from across the country, CDC Director Tom Frieden assured states that the agency would be available to assist in emergency situations, but acknowledged that its response might be slower because of the shutdown.

“We have been told that that if we needed support for a large-scale event, it would require pulling staff back in, and that the response time could be delayed,” said Wendy Braund, Wyoming’s state health officer. “That is a very real concern to us.”

CDC in the States

States rely on the CDC to step in when outbreaks cross state lines and for technical support and lab testing when unusual situations arise. The federal agency also helps fund and staff a range of programs, embedding its own experts in state health agencies to help with a range of programs from immunizations to AIDS prevention. Many of these people have been furloughed.

Also, certain public health functions rely heavily on federal grants, which will become more critical if the shutdown continues. Hawaii State Epidemiologist Sarah Park was handling multiple investigations when she learned that her work may be interrupted because her division gets 90 percent of its money from the federal government.

“Basically, toward the end of last week, it was realized that … the state had only sufficient federal funds drawn down to make the Oct 5th payroll,” she said in an email.

“If the federal shutdown doesn’t resolve soon,” she said, “we could be facing a major crisis whether because staff have to be laid off and/or because we aren’t able to place vaccine orders or have them completed because the federal system is down.”

CDC officials acknowledged the challenges the shutdown has created for its partners at the state level. “We’re actually really concerned about what is happening with the states, and down the road if this continues,” said John O’Connor of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Emergency Response

The CDC can call back employees to respond to emergencies, according to Barbara Reynolds, a CDC crisis communication specialist. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday issued a public health alert for an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella linked to chicken produced by Foster Farms in California.

The outbreak has sickened 278 consumers in 17 states. In response, the CDC called back two-thirds of the 30-person team that tracks foodborne illnesses. It has updated its website with details of its ongoing investigation into the outbreak, including a map detailing cases by state.

Still, Reynolds acknowledged it’s not the same as when the CDC is fully functioning. “We have 9,000 people from CDC furloughed, which means 9,000 fewer people to answer the phones and take phone calls from people in state agencies,” she  said. “Some of that collaboration is just gone right now.”

In Oregon, eight salmonella cases have been linked to the outbreak. Katrina Hedberg, the state’s chief epidemiologist and health officer, said the CDC’s national databases connected the salmonella strain to Foster Farms based on evidence from cases in other states. “Looking at our Oregon cases, it wouldn’t be obvious that they were linked,” she said.

But the state received less information than it would have from a fully functioning CDC. “Normally we’d be hearing about this before, and we’d be having conference calls beforehand,” she said. Instead, Hedberg said the general public learned about the outbreak only shortly after she and her staff did – and from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service rather than the CDC.

Flu Season

One of the most significant looming public health threats is the flu. State health officials are concerned about how the shutdown will affect their ability to fight its spread, since they rely on the CDC to track and monitor cases to better prepare their public health response.

Michael Cooper, Alaska’s deputy state epidemiologist, said his department has received “a flurry of emails about how CDC influenza monitoring and surveillance staff would be at minimal levels and online applications might not be functional for recording data that demonstrates national/state activity related to influenza.”

Blumenstock, of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said there are critical flu-related functions the CDC cannot currently perform because of the shutdown.

For example, at this point in the season, the CDC typically tests early flu strains to see how well they match with the seasonal vaccine. That information gives public health officials important clues about what to expect from flu season and how to adjust their strategies.

The CDC also conducts an annual public awareness campaign, tests early cases of the flu to determine resistance to antivirals and provides regular surveillance information to states.

Much of that assistance simply isn’t happening, Blumenstock said. “Depending on how bad flu season turns out to be, that could provide increased risk of illness or death if CDC doesn’t get back in business.”

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Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

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