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Wed, 11 Aug 2010
WHO Says Swine Flu Pandemic Is Over

The World Health Organization declared the swine flu pandemic officially over Tuesday, months after many national authorities started canceling vaccine orders and shutting down telephone hot lines as the disease ebbed from the headlines.

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said the organization's emergency committee of top flu experts advised her that the pandemic had "largely run its course" and the world is no longer in phase six—the highest influenza alert level. "I fully agree with the committee's advice," Chan told reporters in a telephone briefing from her native Hong Kong.

The virus has now entered the "post-pandemic" phase, meaning disease activity around the world has returned to levels usually seen for seasonal influenza, she said. But Chan cautioned against complacency, saying that even though hospitalizations and deaths have dropped sharply, countries should still keep a watchful eye for unusual patterns of infection and mutations that might render existing vaccines and antiviral drugs ineffective.

Fri, 26 Mar 2010
Swine Flu Virus Not So New, Study Finds

The H1N1 swine flu virus may have been new to humanity in many ways but in one key feature its closest relative was the 1918 pandemic virus, researchers reported on Wednesday. Their findings could point to better ways to design vaccines and help explain why the swine flu pandemic largely spared the elderly.

"This study defines an unexpected similarity between two pandemic-causing strains of influenza," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement.

Two studies show an important structure called hemagglutinin is very similar in both the swine flu H1N1 and its distant cousin, the H1N1 virus that caused the 1918 pandemic. Hemagglutinin is used by viruses to infect cells and gives influenza viruses the "H" in their designations.

Mon, 4 Jan 2010
H1N1 Pandemic Tops List of Health Stories

Global health experts worried that if the virus began spreading from person to person, it could spark a human chain of infection and death worse than anything seen since 1918. They ramped up flu surveillance and bolstered vaccine production. No one predicted that the next pandemic would be launched by an entirely different flu virus in Mexico.

Unlike avian flu, the new virus, H1N1, came from pigs. H1N1 also had an "extraordinary capability to spread explosively from person to person," says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Fortunately, it is far less lethal to humans.

The first wave began in the spring, targeting unusual risk groups: young people, children with neuromuscular diseases, pregnant women and the obese. A summer lull in the Northern Hemisphere was balanced by a wave of cases in the south. When schools reopened, the virus came roaring back.

Wed, 23 Dec 2009
First Case of Swine Flu in Dog Confirmed

Veterinarians in White Plains, N.Y., have identified the first known case of pandemic H1N1 influenza in a dog—a 13-year-old mixed-breed male who is now recovering. The dog was tested because his owner previously had swine flu.

The virus has been found before in other pets, including at least three ferrets, several cats and pigs, and a cheetah named Gijima at a wildlife preserve in Santa Rosa, Calif.

A couple of the cats died, but most of the animals recovered. In each case, the virus is thought to have been transmitted to the animal by its owner or handler, and there is no evidence of the virus being passed back to a human.

Tue, 22 Dec 2009
One Dose of H1N1 Vaccine May Be Enough for Children

Australian researchers have shown that a single dose of vaccine against pandemic H1N1 influenza can provide effective immunity against the swine flu virus in infants and children, a finding that, if corroborated, could help damp the spread of the virus by reducing the logistical complications associated with the currently recommended regimen of two doses.

Immunizing children plays a crucial role in preventing widespread outbreaks of flu and other infectious diseases because schools and camps provide a fertile breeding ground for viruses, which then spread into the community. Early swine flu outbreaks, in New York for example, were triggered by infections in the school system. But immunizing a large proportion of schoolchildren is a daunting task, and making sure they receive the recommended two doses is doubly difficult.

Wed, 25 Nov 2009
Scientists Seek New Ways To Produce Flu Vaccine

As the shortage of vaccinations against the new H1N1 swine flu begins to lessen, researchers are working to find ways to prevent flu vaccine shortages from occurring again.

They're looking for new ways to make flu vaccines. The old way, in use for more than 50 years, involves growing inside of chicken eggs a modified form of whatever flu virus is in circulation. The viruses replicate and can be harvested from the eggs. The process of vaccine development and production takes about five months.

According to Bill Hall, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, the government has spent nearly $2 billion in the past five years on developing quicker, eggless systems.

Tue, 10 Nov 2009
Obesity Puts Swine Flu Sufferers at Greater Risk, Study Suggests

Obesity appears to be a risk factor on a par with pregnancy for developing complications from an infection with pandemic H1N1 influenza, according to the most comprehensive look yet at swine flu hospitalizations.

About a quarter of those hospitalizations have been for people who were morbidly obese, even though such people make up less than 5% of the population. That fivefold increase in risk is close to the sixfold increase observed in pregnant women, according to the report published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

When the merely obese are included with the morbidly obese, they make up 34% of the American population. Yet they accounted for 58% of the hospitalizations in the study.

Wed, 4 Nov 2009
Older Patients Most Likely to Die From H1N1 Influenza

An analysis of more than 1,000 California patients hospitalized with H1N1 flu during the first four months of the pandemic found that infants were most likely to be admitted, and patients 50 and older were most likely to die once admitted.

In the first four months of the pandemic, H1N1, like the seasonal flu, was especially severe in older people, who are more likely to have underlying health conditions, says lead author Janice Louie, a public-health medical officer at the California Department of Public Health.

However, Louie says, unlike seasonal flu, older people are far less likely than children and young adults to contract the H1N1 flu in the first place. For that reason, the study won't lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to add healthy older people to the list of priority groups for H1N1 vaccine, director Thomas Frieden told reporters Tuesday.

Tue, 3 Nov 2009
Pregnant Women Need Only 1 Dose of Swine Flu Vaccine

Pregnant women need only one dose of vaccine to protect them from the swine flu, according to government data released Monday that confirm what officials have been recommending.

Federally funded studies also affirmed that children age 9 and younger will need two doses of vaccine to produce a strong enough response by their immune systems to protect them against the H1N1 virus, officials reported.

The findings came as an independent panel of experts organized by the Health and Human Services Department to monitor the safety of the vaccine met for the first time to review the data.

Fri, 30 Oct 2009
H1N1 Cases Vastly Underreported, CDC Says

WASHINGTON —The number of confirmed cases of H1N1 flu from April to July represents just 2% of the actual people who were infected with the virus, according to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report, posted to the agency's Web site, says the number of people infected with H1N1 flu from April to July likely was between 1.8 million and 5.7 million, much higher than the 43,677 confirmed cases. The paper also said the virus hospitalized 9,000 to 21,000 people during the same period.

The study shows the prevalence of the virus is more widespread than originally reported. The CDC and World Health Organization in July stopped tracking individual cases because they acknowledged doing so was difficult.

Wed, 28 Oct 2009
In Germany, a Better Vaccine for Politicians?

Critics are calling it a two-tier health system—one for the politically well connected, another for the hoi polloi. As Germany launched its mass-vaccination program against the H1N1 flu virus on Monday, the government found itself fending off accusations of favoritism because it was offering one vaccine believed to have fewer side effects to civil servants, politicians and soldiers, and another, potentially riskier vaccine to everyone else.

The government had hoped that Germans would rush to health clinics to receive vaccinations against the rapidly spreading disease, but now rising anger over the different drugs may cause many people to shy away.

Amid growing fears of a possible global flu pandemic, the German government prepared for its mass-vaccination campaign earlier this year by ordering 50 million doses of the Pandemrix vaccine, enough for a double dose for 25 million people, about a third of the population. The vaccine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, contains an immunity-enhancing chemical compound, known as an adjuvant, whose side effects are not yet entirely known.

Thu, 22 Oct 2009
Swine Flu's Collateral Health Benefits in Bolivia

If any good has come of the global H1N1 flu pandemic, it may have started with a child like Nayeli Quispe, 7, a second-grader from the impoverished hillsides of La Paz, Bolivia.

Prompted by a massive campaign by the country's public-health officials to contain the spread of the new flu virus, Nayeli and millions of other Bolivian schoolchildren have been washing their hands a lot more than usual—after recess, before meals and every time the animated dancing hands pop up in public-service announcements on TV. "First you wet them really well, then you rub the soap all around and then you dry them with a clean towel," says Nayeli.

Public-health experts now say the increase in hand-washing across the country may have had some collateral benefits, not only in helping to reduce H1N1 infections, but also the spread of other common diseases in Bolivia. "We see a steady 10% to 15% drop in the rate of incidence of acute diarrheal diseases in all age groups, compared with last year's numbers at this time," says Dr. Rene Lenis, Bolivia's director of epidemiology, referring to data collected on the number of weekly cases of diarrheal disease reported in medical centers nationwide in 2008 and 2009.

Fri, 4 Sep 2009
Many Colleges Reporting Swine Flu

More than half of the nation's colleges and universities tracking swine flu cases are reporting infected students, with more than 1,600 cases within the first weeks of classes, a medical group said Wednesday.

The American College Health Association, in the first of what will be weekly reports on swine flu activity, said 55 percent of 165 institutions surveyed counted a total of 1,640 cases as of the week of Aug. 22-28. So far, one student has been hospitalized and no deaths have been reported, the group said. The 165 institutions represent more than 2 million students.

... "Fortunately, it appears that at this early stage the illness remains relatively mild among college students," said James C. Turner, the health association's president and executive director of the Department of Student Health at the University of Virginia.

Thu, 3 Sep 2009
Flu Trackers Encourage Patients to Blog About It

Think you have the flu? In some places, you can now go directly to the Internet and report your symptoms to officials eager to spot outbreaks.

Say you feel sick, but before you see a doctor you search the Web for information, or blog or Twitter about the flu. Your worries will be detected by companies prowling the Internet for disease trends. If you actually come down with the flu, and the doctors want to know who you've been in physical contact with, your trusty cellphone could soon tell them.

And someday, scientists hope, this "infodemiology" might help forecast and track a flu epidemic the way experts monitor the weather. As health officials gear up for the flu season amid the global H1N1 pandemic, technology and new forms of Internet social interaction are transforming how such outbreaks are monitored.

Wed, 26 Aug 2009
Agency Urges Caution on Estimates of Swine Flu

ATLANTA —Up to 90,000 deaths from swine flu in the United States, mostly among children and young people? Up to 1.8 million people hospitalized, with 50 percent to 100 percent of the intensive-care beds in some cities filled with swine flu patients? Up to half the population infected by this winter?

On Monday, a White House advisory panel issued a report with these estimates, calling them "a plausible scenario" for a second wave of infections by the new H1N1 flu. The grim numbers by the panel, the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology, got considerable play in the news media.

On Tuesday, however, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency with the most expertise on influenza pandemics, suggested that the projections should be regarded with caution. "We don't necessarily see this as a likely scenario," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

Thu, 20 Aug 2009
Testing Begins on Experimental Flu Vaccine for Children

On one of his last days of summer vacation, Hunter Sears would have preferred to still be in bed at 10 a.m., or maybe just settling in for a few good hours of television.

So why, exactly, was the 13-year-old Anne Arundel County boy sitting in his Annapolis pediatrician's office yesterday, his orange T-shirt rolled up to his shoulder as a nurse first took blood from his arm and then gave him a shot he didn't need to get?

Hunter was pediatric volunteer No.1 of an expected 600 nationwide for an experimental vaccine against the H1N1 influenza virus, a new strain of flu that appeared in April and which officials fear will be widespread come fall. But before a mass vaccination can be rolled out—one that could involve hundreds of millions of inoculations—hundreds of adults and children have volunteered for clinical trials to test the vaccine's safety.

Thu, 20 Aug 2009
Swine Flu Threat to Business Prompts a Call for Readiness

WASHINGTON —An outbreak of the H1N1 swine flu in the coming flu season could be severe enough to cause staffing shortages and other workplace disruptions, officials said Wednesday.

The government also acknowledged that supplies of vaccines to prevent the disease are taking longer to produce than originally forecast.

Businesses should allow employees flexibility to stay home to recuperate or care for sick relatives, said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in a news conference. Businesses should consider dropping requirements that workers get doctors' notes for absences, Mr. Locke said, because they could "overload a health-care system that will likely be overstressed during this year's flu season."

Wed, 5 Aug 2009
Pneumonia Vaccine May Help Limit Swine Flu Deaths

In years past, the nation's attempts to prevent flu-related deaths have focused on limiting transmission of the virus through widespread vaccination programs. This year, with school starting up well before a vaccine for the pandemic H1N1 influenza virus will be available, there will be little that can slow the spread of the virus for the next few months.

But there may yet be something that can be done to reduce hospitalizations and deaths associated with the virus, commonly known as swine flu, public health authorities say.

Most of the serious consequences linked to the virus are the result of pneumonia, and an underused vaccine called Pneumovax can prevent, or at least limit, such complications in many patients.

Thu, 30 Jul 2009
Priority Given to Certain Groups for Swine Flu Vaccine

Pregnant women, parents and caretakers of young children, all healthcare workers, people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, and non-elderly adults with underlying medical conditions should be first in line to get the pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccine when it becomes available, an advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

That totals about 159 million people in the United States out of a population of more than 300 million. The CDC expects about 120 million doses of the vaccine to be available by the end of October, obviously not enough to cover all of the recommended groups.

But historically, only 20% to 50% of those recommended to receive the seasonal flu vaccine ... actually seek it out, so officials are confident there will be plenty of the so-called swine flu vaccine available for those who want it.

Mon, 20 Jul 2009
New Push in H1N1 Flu Fight Set for Start of School

U.S. health officials are preparing intensively to combat an anticipated wave of outbreaks of the new H1N1 flu when children return to school and the pace of cases picks up.

Identified by scientists just three months ago, the new swine-flu virus has reached nearly every country, spreading tenaciously with what the World Health Organization this week called "unprecedented speed."

... Anne Schuchat, chief of immunization and respiratory diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday that the agency expects an increase in cases before the normal start of the flu season in mid-autumn, because children are likely to spread it to one another once they go back to school.

Wed, 15 Jul 2009
Flu Strains Circulate for Years Before Becoming a Pandemic

The three pandemic flu strains of the 20th century, which killed millions, may have circulated in a precursor form for years before cutting their deadly swath. The finding could give flu detectives today a clue for where to watch for future outbreaks.

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong's Laboratory of Emerging Infectious Diseases ran computer analyses tracing the evolution of the flu strain in the three major pandemics: 1918, 1957 and 1968.

They found that the 1918 flu virus, which is estimated to have killed 50 million to 100 million people worldwide, most likely was circulating in humans and pigs at least two to 15 years before the pandemic began.

Fri, 10 Jul 2009
Students First in Line For Flu Vaccine

School-age children will be a key target population for a pandemic flu vaccine in the fall, and they may be vaccinated at school in a mass campaign not seen since the polio epidemics of the 1950s.

The federal government should get about 100 million doses of vaccine by mid-October, if the current production by five companies goes as planned. But enough vaccine for wide use by the 120 million people especially vulnerable to the newly emerged strain of H1N1 influenza virus will not be available until later in the fall. Those were among the messages administration officials delivered to about 500 state, territorial, city and tribal health officials yesterday at a "flu summit" at the National Institutes of Health's Bethesda campus.

Mon, 29 Jun 2009
H1N1 'Swine' Flu Has Infected 1 Million in U.S.

At least 1 million Americans have now contracted the novel H1N1 influenza, according to mathematical models prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while data from the field indicates that the virus is continuing to spread even though the normal flu season is over and that an increasing proportion of victims are being hospitalized.

Meanwhile, the virus is continuing its rapid spread through the Southern Hemisphere, infecting increasing numbers of people and at least one pig.

Nearly 28,000 laboratory-confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, also known as swine flu, have been reported to the CDC, almost half of the more than 56,000 cases globally reported to the World Health Organization.

Fri, 19 Jun 2009
81 U.S. Healthcare Workers Found to Have H1N1 Virus

At least 81 U.S. healthcare workers have contracted laboratory-confirmed cases of the novel H1N1 influenza virus and about half caught the bug on the job, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday.

The finding is worrisome because it suggests that hospitals and workers are not taking sufficient preventive measures to limit spread of the virus.

If a large-scale outbreak of the virus recurs this fall, a similar infection rate could cause significant problems—not only because it would limit the number of workers available to care for the sick, but also because the infected nurses, doctors and others could transmit the virus to debilitated patients before their own symptoms become apparent. Already-ill patients would be more likely to develop life-threatening side effects from the flu.

Mon, 15 Jun 2009
Flu Pandemic Spurs Queries About Vaccine

Governments and drug companies ramping up production of a vaccine against the swine-flu virus are facing a tough question: Who really needs it?

The world's biggest drug companies have started producing vaccines against the H1N1 virus and expect the first doses to be available by the fall. Many Western countries have ordered millions of doses, at a cost of more than $1 billion. But they have yet to figure out who should be first in line to get the shots, or to what extent they are even needed, given that the virus has so far proved less deadly than feared.

"We hope that clarity will come from this fog in the next two to three months," said John Oxford, professor of virology at Queen Mary, University of London.

Fri, 12 Jun 2009
WHO Calls Swine Flu Outbreak a Pandemic

The World Health Organization yesterday declared the seven-week-old outbreak of the novel H1N1 influenza virus a pandemic, marking it as a historic global health event, one whose consequences may not be known for years.

The announcement—expected for weeks but made with some reluctance—essentially warns the WHO's 194 member nations to get ready for the new flu strain, which is likely to infect as much as one-third of the population in the first wave and return in later waves that may be more severe.

"The world is moving into the early days of its first influenza pandemic of the 21st century," Margaret Chan, the WHO's director general, said at an afternoon news conference in Geneva. "We anticipate this action will raise many questions and that often these questions do not have simple answers."

Fri, 22 May 2009
Study Detects Flu Immunity in Older People

A substantial portion of older Americans may have some immunity to the swine-origin H1N1 influenza virus, a finding that may prove useful when and if a vaccine to the new flu strain becomes available.

The questions of whom to target with a swine flu vaccine and how to stretch the supply if it is limited are among the most important issues facing public health officials over the next four months.

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced yesterday that a study using stored blood samples found that one-third of people older than 60 have antibodies that might protect them from infection with the new virus. If further research is able to better define who has partial immunity, those people might need only one dose of vaccine, not two.

Wed, 20 May 2009
Obesity May Contribute to Swine-Flu Severity

WASHINGTON—A survey of people hospitalized because of swine flu in California has raised the possibility that obesity is as much of a risk factor for serious complications from flu as diabetes, heart disease and pregnancy, all known to raise a person's risk. In all, about two-thirds of the California patients had some underlying medical condition, according to a report Tuesday in the weekly bulletin of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationwide, 48 states have reported 5,469 cases and six U.S. deaths since the start of the outbreak in late April, according to CDC's count.

Tue, 19 May 2009
Officials Urge WHO to Change Swine Flu Alert Criteria

As the World Health Organization inched closer Monday to raising the infectious disease alert level to its highest stage—and to a decision on whether to manufacture a vaccine against the novel H1N1 influenza virus—some delegates to the WHO congress in Geneva urged the agency to change its criteria for increasing the alert level.

Current rules call for the alert to be raised to Phase 6 if community transmission of the new virus is observed in two different WHO regions. So far, such transmission has been observed only in North America, which accounts for about 95% of the nearly 9,000 confirmed infections that have been observed worldwide.

But an outbreak of the virus in Japan detected over the weekend hints that such transmission may soon be observed in Asia as well. Japanese authorities said Monday in Tokyo that there have been 135 confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza in schools in Kobe and Osaka, mostly among students and family members who have not visited North America, suggesting that the virus might have been transmitted locally.

Tue, 19 May 2009
A Long Search for a Universal Flu Vaccine

Two shots of measles vaccine given during childhood protect a person for life. Four shots of polio vaccine do the same. But flu shots must be taken every year. And even so, they provide less than complete protection.

The reason is that the influenza virus mutates much more rapidly than most other viruses. A person who develops immunity to one strain of the virus is not well protected from a different strain.

That is shaping up to be a major problem as the world prepares for a possible pandemic this fall from the new strain of swine flu. It is impossible to know how many people might die before a vaccine matched to that strain can be manufactured.

Mon, 18 May 2009
New York Reports Its First Swine Flu Death

An assistant principal at a New York City public school died of complications from swine flu in an intensive care unit of a Queens hospital on Sunday night, the first death in New York State of the flu strain that has swept across much of the world since it was first identified in April.

On Friday, Dr. Daniel Jernigan, head of flu epidemiology for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there had been 173 hospitalizations and 5 deaths reported to the agency. But he emphasized that most cases in the United States—possibly "upwards of 100,000"—were mild.

In Japan, the number of swine flu cases soared over the weekend, and authorities closed more than 1,000 schools and kindergartens.

Fri, 8 May 2009
New Virus, Old Tale: Animals Share Bugs With Us

Somewhere out there, somewhere along the way, a single creature got all this started. A pig, presumably. Pig Zero.

Scientists suspect that two influenza viruses common in swine, one rooted in Eurasia and the other in North America, came together in a single cell within a pig. The two viruses exchanged their genes like a couple of kids swapping school clothes. The result was a novel strain of virus, with, according to scientists, two genes from the Eurasian virus and six genes from the North American virus.

The new strain then jumped to humans. Where is unknown. Mexico is a possibility, but so far the virus hasn't been found in any Mexican swine. All of this is the latest iteration of a phenomenon dating to the dawn of mankind: zoonosis. A zoonotic disease is one that spreads from animals to humans, or vice versa.

Thu, 7 May 2009
Mild Flu Could Hit Harder in the Fall

The number of swine flu cases in Mexico is stabilizing. In the U.S., though more people are being diagnosed with the virus, cases have been mostly mild, claiming two lives. And health officials have backed off on closing schools where students are sick.

It may seem as though the threat of the virus known as H1N1 has lessened. But infectious disease experts and public health officials agree: The worst is likely still to come. In pandemics of the past, flu that arrived in the spring hit harder come fall, when influenza season returned.

"If you were just to bet on the odds, you would bet H1N1 would abate in the summer and return in the winter," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Tennessee. "The illness produced, so far, is really quite mild. But the question would be—as it circulates among humans in the Southern Hemisphere [in their winter flu season]—could it pick up a virulence gene ... that is capable of producing severe disease?"

Thu, 7 May 2009
Officials Debate Production of H1N1 Vaccine

As U.S. health authorities told Congress on Wednesday that they were prepared to mass produce a vaccine against the new H1N1 influenza virus if needed, World Health Organization officials said they would convene an expert committee next week to determine if such production was necessary—or desirable. The U.S. is expected to follow the recommendation.

Production of a vaccine against the virus in anticipation of its return in the fall might sound like an obvious step, but doing so would sharply limit the amount of seasonal flu vaccine that would be available because the new vaccine would be manufactured instead of the traditional one.

The virulence of the new strain remains unclear, but seasonal flu is a known killer. About 36,000 people die from it in the U.S. each year and tens of thousands more worldwide.

Wed, 6 May 2009
10 Genes, Furiously Evolving

Evolutionary biology may sometimes seem like an arcane academic pursuit, but just try telling that to Gavin Smith, a virologist at Hong Kong University. For the past week, Dr. Smith and six other experts on influenza in Hong Kong, Arizona, California and Britain have been furiously analyzing the new swine flu to figure out how and when it evolved.

The first viruses from the outbreak were isolated late last month, but Dr. Smith and his colleagues report on their Web site that the most recent common ancestor of the new viruses existed 6 to 11 months ago. "It could just have been going under the radar," Dr. Smith said.

The current outbreak shows how complex and mysterious the evolution of viruses is. That complexity and mystery are all the more remarkable because a virus is life reduced to its essentials.

Tue, 5 May 2009
Mexican Officials Lower Flu Alert Level

Amid signs that the H1N1 influenza outbreak in Mexico is waning, health authorities there said Monday that they were lowering the alert level and would begin allowing nonessential businesses to reopen, starting with restaurants Wednesday. Museums, churches and libraries can open a day later.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon said schools would reopen gradually. University and preparatory students will return to class Thursday, but those in lower grades will remain out until Monday to give officials more time to clean facilities.

"Today the situation is stabilizing, and we are on the way toward normalcy," Calderon said. Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova said that no new deaths from H1N1 had occurred since Wednesday and that the number of new patients was falling. He said tests had confirmed the virus in 802 cases, fewer than half of the 2,150 samples checked.

Mon, 4 May 2009
Swine Flu Threat Appears to Be Easing, Officials Say

The number of swine flu cases continued its slow climb, reaching 263 in the United States and at least 937 in 19 countries worldwide, but both Mexican and U.S. authorities expressed cautious optimism Sunday that the outbreak may not be as severe as originally feared.

U.S. officials continued to express confidence that the H1N1 virus was not unusually virulent, but they cautioned that the number of cases and deaths would rise. In Mexico, however, officials said the disease was on the decline.

"What I can say is that we're seeing encouraging signs," Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos." "That makes us all very happy."

Fri, 1 May 2009
Scientists See This Flu Strain as Relatively Mild

As the World Health Organization raised its infectious disease alert level and health officials confirmed the first death linked to swine flu inside U.S. borders, scientists studying the virus are coming to the consensus that this hybrid strain of influenza—at least in its current form—isn't shaping up to be as fatal as the strains that caused some previous pandemics.

In fact, the current outbreak of the H1N1 virus, which emerged in San Diego and southern Mexico late last month, may not even do as much damage as the run-of-the-mill flu outbreaks that occur each winter without much fanfare.

"Let's not lose track of the fact that the normal seasonal influenza is a huge public health problem that kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone and hundreds of thousands around the world," said Dr. Christopher Olsen, a molecular virologist who studies swine flu at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison.

Thu, 30 Apr 2009
Dreading the Worst When It Comes to Epidemics

So far the swine flu has frightened far more people than it has infected, but fear of a disease can be just as potent as the sickness itself. Outbreaks of plague in medieval Europe led to the murder or exile of Jews who had nothing to do with its spread.

In the 20th century, the specter of contagion was used to turn impoverished immigrants away from Ellis Island, demonize gay men and discourage women from getting jobs and even wearing shorter skirts.

"So often epidemics end up as campaigns to capitalize on people's fears or spread prejudice or encourage one or another kind of injustice," says Philip Alcabes, a public health professor at Hunter College of the City University of New York and the author of a new book, Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics From the Black Death to Avian Flu.

Thu, 30 Apr 2009
Mexico Limits Public Services as Flu Alerts Increase

As the swine flu virus appeared in new locations as far apart as Peru and Switzerland on Thursday, Mexicans braced for a national shutdown of offices, restaurants, schools and even the stands of soccer stadiums in an attempt to slow the spread of the disease.

In a nationally televised speech Wednesday night, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that, as of Friday, many public services would be closed through Tuesday, encompassing a long holiday weekend.

... Officials in Asia and Europe also scrambled to confront the sickness, but Hong Kong's chief executive, Donald Tsang, that "pandemic flu will continue to spread and Hong Kong is very likely to be affected."

Tue, 28 Apr 2009
Obama Vows Investment in Science

President Barack Obama has set the goal of devoting 3% of gross domestic product (GDP) to US science research.

President Obama made the announcement during a speech on Monday to the US National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC. He also discussed a US public health emergency over the swine flu virus outbreak.

President Obama added that it was time for America to lead again in the area of research and development. ... US R&D spend is currently of the order of 2.6%, according to the most recent recorded figures.

Tue, 28 Apr 2009
A Guide to Swine Flu

As swine influenza reaches the U.S., Scientific American provides a guide to what you need to know and what happens next, plus a look at pandemics past.

With the number of confirmed U.S. swine flu cases [more than] double the 20 it was on Sunday, the government says that it is closely monitoring the swine flu outbreak and is preparing for further spread.

Meanwhile, researchers are now able to make human flu antibodies at record speed. Fast treatment manufactured from flu survivors' antibodies could pave the way to more effectively thwarting pandemics.

Tue, 28 Apr 2009
Borders Are Tightened as Swine Flu Cases Rise

Countries around the world began tightening their border and immigration controls Tuesday as the number of confirmed cases of swine flu continued to rise.

The number of deaths believed attributable to swine flu climbed to as many as 152 on Tuesday—all of them in Mexico—as news agencies reported the number of confirmed cases of infection in the United States stood at 50 after further testing at a New York City school.

Other cases have been reported in Ohio, Kansas, Texas and California. In addition, The Associated Press reported that preliminary tests by health officials in New Jersey had identified five "probable" cases—four people who were recently in Mexico and one who had been in California.

Tue, 3 Mar 2009
Common Flu Strain Resists Popular Drug Tamiflu

The flu strain most likely to make you sick this winter has developed a near-total resistance to one of the most popular drugs prescribed to blunt its symptoms. More than 98 percent of one of the influenza A viruses circulating this winter is now resistant to the antiviral drug Tamiflu, up from less than 1 percent just two years ago, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Scientists say the increased resistance appears to be the result of a natural mutation, not over-prescription of the 10-year-old drug. But it is complicating the work of physicians trying to ease patients' symptoms.

Wed, 25 Feb 2009
Sunshine Vitamin Diminishes Risk of Colds, Flu

Getting plenty of vitamin D--more than diet can offer--appears to provide potent protection against colds, flu and even pneumonia, a new study reports. Although the amount of protection varies by season, the trend is solid: As the amount of vitamin D circulating in blood climbs, risk of upper respiratory tract infections falls.

Though that's not too surprising, the researchers found one unexpected trend: "In people with preexisting lung disease, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease--or COPD, low levels of vitamin D act like an effect modifier," says Adit Ginde, an emergency room physician at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine in Aurora who led the study.

The findings appear in the Feb. 23 Archives of Internal Medicine. In people with lung disease, he says, low levels of the sunshine vitamin "magnify many-fold" the apparent vulnerability to infection seen in people with healthy lungs.

Fri, 6 Feb 2009
Tamiflu No Longer Works for Dominant Flu Strain

A milder than usual U.S. flu season is masking a growing concern about widespread resistance to the antiviral drug Tamiflu and what that means for the nation's preparedness in case of a dangerous pandemic flu.

Tamiflu, the most commonly used influenza antiviral and the mainstay of the federal government's emergency drug stockpile, no longer works for the dominant flu strain circulating in much of the country, government officials said Tuesday.

Of samples tested since October, almost 100% of the strain--known as type A H1N1--showed resistance to Tamiflu. In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines to physicians in December. Doctors were told to substitute an alternative antiviral, Relenza, for Tamiflu, or to combine Tamiflu with an older antiviral, rimantadine, if the H1N1 virus was the main strain circulating in their communities.

Mon, 26 Jan 2009
Facemasks Can Protect Against Flu - If Only People Keep Them On

Protective facemasks can guard against respiratory infections such as flu, and could play an important part in defending against a pandemic, according to research. Persuading people to wear a mask and to fit it properly, however, is a difficult task that could limit their effectiveness, British and Australian scientists have found. In a clinical trial of the effectiveness of masks, researchers at Imperial College London and the University of New South Wales studied 280 adults from 143 families living in Sydney during the winter flu seasons of 2006 and 2007.

When a child in the household was ill with flu, the volunteers were asked either to wear a mask or not, on a random basis. Those who wore a mask while their children were sick were four times less likely than non-wearers to become infected by their sick children. Details of the research are published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Fri, 23 Jan 2009
One-Shot Jab for Every Type of Flu 'Ready in 5 Years'

A universal therapy or vaccine for every type of flu is "within our grasp", according to scientists who have identified proteins that can neutralise most strains of the virus that affect humans.

The discovery of three immune proteins that are effective against a broad range of influenza viruses promises to provide a new line of defence against a pandemic, and could prevent many of the 250,000 deaths from seasonal flu that occur worldwide every year.

A treatment based on the research is expected to begin patient trials during the winter of 2010-11, and could be ready for widespread use within five years.

Thu, 13 Nov 2008
Google Uses Searches to Track Flu's Spread

SAN FRANCISCO–There is a new common symptom of the flu, in addition to the usual aches, coughs, fevers and sore throats. Turns out a lot of ailing Americans enter phrases like "flu symptoms" into Google and other search engines before they call their doctors.

That simple act, multiplied across millions of keyboards in homes around the country, has given rise to a new early warning system for fast-spreading flu outbreaks, called Google Flu Trends.

Tests of the new Web tool from, the company's philanthropic unit, suggest that it may be able to detect regional outbreaks of the flu a week to 10 days before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thu, 2 Oct 2008
New Genetic Test for Flu Virus Means Results in 4 Hours

The government approved a new genetic test for the flu virus Tuesday that will allow labs across the country to identify flu strains within four hours instead of four days.

The timesaving test could be crucial if a deadly new strain emerges, federal health officials said. The new test also could help doctors make better treatment decisions during a conventional flu season.

The new test was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Applied Biosystems Inc. of Foster City, Calif. The Food and Drug Administration approved the test kit Tuesday, and state health labs are expected to start using it this fall.

Thu, 25 Sep 2008
More People than Ever Urged to Get Flu Shots

from the Baltimore Sun

Federal health officials are urging that more Americans than ever before get flu shots, including, for the first time, children age 6 months through 18 years.

Experts say they are also concerned about adults over 50. While two-thirds of those over age 65 were vaccinated against the flu last year, only 36 percent of those between 50 and 64 were immunized. Experts urged health care providers to get their patients vaccinated.

"The message is not getting out to those in the 50-plus category," said Dr. Cora L. Christian, a member of the AARP board of directors, who spoke yesterday on a panel sponsored by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "Many myths exist about influenza vaccination, but the evidence is clear—vaccines, regardless of age, offer the best method to prevent disease."

Wed, 24 Sep 2008
Monoclonal Antibodies Come of Age

A fast way of isolating antibodies from people has been used to create a library of the immune proteins produced by someone inoculated with a nicotine-acting vaccine. Roger Beerli and his team at Cytos Biotechnology in Schlieren, Switzerland, used lymphocytes from an individual who was enrolled in a clinical trial of the smoking-cessation vaccine, and with their technique rapidly identified nicotine-specific antibodies.

The work is the latest offering in a burgeoning field of therapeutics: monoclonal antibodies. These antibodies are derived from a single population of cells and bind to their target at a specific site.

Last month, researchers reported that they had isolated functional antibodies from survivors of the 1918 influenza pandemic, and in April, another team reported the rapid cloning of influenza antibodies from people who had recently been vaccinated against the disease. Researchers hope the findings will eventually lead to 'passive immunity' treatments.

Wed, 17 Sep 2008
Scientists Exhume British Diplomat to Study Flu

Scientists have exhumed the body of a British diplomat who died of flu during the World War I-era pandemic that killed tens of millions around the world, hoping to find clues that might help fight a future global influenza outbreak.

The BBC said Tuesday that it had filmed virologist John Oxford exhuming Sir Mark Sykes, who died in 1919. Oxford's team took tissue samples before reburying the body in its grave in East Yorkshire in northeast England last week. The BBC will broadcast the program Wednesday.

Understanding more about the 1918-19 pandemic, known as the Spanish flu, might help scientists design better treatments for the H5N1 strain of avian flu. Victims of Spanish flu frequently experienced an overly aggressive immune response that attacked their own bodies. The same phenomenon has been seen in human H5N1 cases.

Wed, 3 Sep 2008
When the Flu Kills

When 6-month-old Marques Jackson developed a high fever and a cough, his family chalked it up to a bad winter cold. It was December 2003, and the Jackson family, of Cleveland, Ohio, was looking forward to celebrating a first Christmas for baby Marques and his twin sister, Chalise. But when Marques' symptoms worsened, his family rushed him to the hospital. Rick Cerett, the twins' grandfather, recalled doctors in the emergency room telling him that Marques had influenza.

A few days later Marques died while he was being rushed back to the emergency room...

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get an annual flu shot. Although initial recommendations for the flu vaccine only included individuals over age 50 and those with a chronic illness, this year the CDC's advisory on immunization practices expands the age range of people eligible to receive the flu vaccine.

Now the committee additionally suggests that every child from 6 months to 18 years old receive the vaccination...

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also suggests that women at any stage of their pregnancy get the flu shot...

Tue, 19 Aug 2008
Bacteria Played a Role in 1918 Pandemic Flu Deaths, Scientists Say

Most deaths in the 1918 influenza pandemic were due not to the virus alone but to common bacterial infections that took advantage of victims' weakened immune systems, according to two new studies that could change the nation's strategy against the next pandemic.

"We have to realize that it isn't just antivirals that we need," said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and coauthor of one study. "We need to make sure that we're prepared to treat people with antibiotics," said Fauci, whose study will be released online this month by the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

In both studies, scientists analyzed a trove of historical documents from around the world, examining firsthand accounts, medical records and autopsy reports.

Tue, 1 Jul 2008
Autism Case at Meeting Forefront
Federal health officials [called] together on Sunday some of the world's leading experts on an obscure disease to discuss the case of Hannah Poling, a 9-year-old girl from Athens, Ga., who became autistic after receiving numerous vaccinations.

But the government has kept quiet a second case that some say is more disturbing and more relevant to the meeting. On Jan. 11, a 6-year-old girl from Colorado received FluMist, a flu vaccine, and about a week later "became weak with multiple episodes of falling to ground" and "difficulty walking" ... She died April 5.

No one knows whether the vaccinations had anything to do with the girls' health problems; both had mitochondrial disorders. But suggestions that such disorders could be set off or worsened by vaccinations, and may be linked to autism, prompted Sunday's meeting.

Mon, 26 May 2008
Flu Shots Leave an Age Gap
As Maryland wraps up its worst flu season in three years, a small army of researchers is working on a vexing problem: why flu shots so often don't help the elderly. No matter how many people are vaccinated and what recipe drug makers use to formulate the flu vaccine each year, it generally works in only 30 percent to 40 percent of those over 65 - compared with 80 percent to 90 percent of younger adults, experts say. Doctors gauge a vaccine's effectiveness by examining blood levels of the antibodies our bodies produce after receiving it. They say older bodies have more trouble producing the antibodies than younger ones, even with a push from flu vaccine, so they're working on a more potent version of today's shots for older patients.

Wed, 21 May 2008
A Single Universal Vaccine for the Flu?
... For the past three decades, researchers and health workers have engaged in a ... battle against one of the most cunning viruses to afflict humanity and much of the animal world: the dread influenza virus. This pathogen ... continuously changes the appearance of ... the proteins on its coat so that immune systems do not recognize the new disguise.

... "The whole infrastructure required for the preparation of seasonal vaccines has enormous disadvantages," remarks Walter Fiers, a molecular biologist at Ghent University in Belgium. "It is slow—sometimes we miss the strain that becomes predominant—and if a pandemic should arrive, we will not be prepared."

Fiers's goal: a universal vaccine that, like some childhood immunizations, would confer lifelong immunity. Scientists have dreamed for decades of a one-shot approach to stop the flu—particularly influenza A, the most serious type. But the task is daunting.

Thu, 17 Apr 2008
Researchers Chart How New Flu Strains Travel
Solving a 60-year-old mystery, researchers have concluded that new flu strains emerge in eastern and southeastern Asia, move to Europe and North America six to nine months later, then travel to South America where they disappear forever.

Tue, 1 Apr 2008
Infected with Insanity: Could Microbes Cause Mental Illness
Schizophrenia is a devastating illness. One percent of the world's population suffers from its symptoms of hallucinations, psychosis and impaired cognitive ability. The disease destroys relationships and renders many of its sufferers unable to hold down a job. What could cause such frightening damage to the brain? According to a growing body of research, the culprit is surprising: the flu.

Sun, 23 Mar 2008
What if a Flu Like 1918's Broke Out Now?
When an outbreak of the Spanish flu spread worldwide in 1918, a doctor in Newark advised his patients that they could cure their illness with red onions and coffee. In Atlantic City, the authorities closed amusement parks and theaters indefinitely. Today, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York are much more prepared .... But five years after an avian flu outbreak in Asia made pandemic flu planning a priority, some experts are concerned that states have not been equally vigilant about preparing, and as attention and federal financing begin to decrease, they fear that preparedness efforts will slacken.

Tue, 4 Mar 2008
Why Flu Strikes in Cold Weather
Scientists believe they have uncovered a key reason why flu viruses tend to strike in cold weather. They found the viruses coat themselves in fatty material that hardens to a gel, protecting them in the cold. This coating melts in the higher temperatures of the respiratory tract, allowing the virus to infect cells. The US National Institutes of Health team hope their study, which features in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, could lead to new treatments.

Wed, 27 Feb 2008
All Kids Need Flu Shots, CDC Says
Annual flu vaccinations should be given to all children ages 6 months through 18 years of age, a federal advisory panel said Wednesday. The panel's decision represents a call for roughly 30 million more kids to get vaccinated. If heeded, it would prompt one of the largest expansions in flu vaccination coverage in U.S. history.

Tue, 12 Feb 2008
Flu Epidemic Under Way Nationwide
An influenza epidemic is under way nationwide, complicated by concerns involving the vaccine and a key medication used to fight the illness. "We call it a seasonal epidemic," said Dr. Joseph Bresee, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch in the influenza division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In New York, Nassau and Suffolk counties are among those reporting high levels of flu activity to the state Health Department.

Every weekday, Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, selects a set of significant and interesting science-related news articles from the mainstream media. The news stories featured here are selected from Sigma Xi's daily Science in the News e-mail.

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