Entries in Flu Vaccine (15)


There's Still Time to Get a Flu Shot

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It’s official: flu season is here.  But experts say it’s not too late to get a flu shot -- your best protection against winter’s wiliest virus.

“This year’s vaccine appears to be right on target with the circulating virus,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.  “Treat it as a holiday gift to yourself and everyone around you.  Don’t be a Grinch by spreading the flu.”

Flu season arrived early this year, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it could be a doozy.

“We’re seeing the beginning of the uptick start at least a month before we’d generally see it,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.  “It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season.”

Holiday parties and crowded cross-country travel give the flu an easy ticket to spread, according to Schaffner.

“There are a lot of interactions within your breathing zone,” he said, referring to the three-foot radius around your mouth.  “Those are all ideal circumstances for viral transmission.”

While “avoiding coughers and sneezers” can help reduce your risk, flu symptoms can take days to appear.  That means seemingly healthy friends and coworkers could be unwittingly exposing you to the flu.

“It‘s not too late to get a flu shot,” said Schaffner, who warned that flu season will likely extend through February or March.  “Please don’t doddle.  Don’t leave it to the last minute like a late Christmas eve shopping trip.”

If you do come down with flu symptoms, stay home and rest, Schaffner said.

“Don’t go to holiday parties, don’t go to work,” he said.  “You’ll only expose all your friends, relatives and coworkers.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


NC Hospitals Warn Employees to Get a Flu Shot or Get Fired

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With officials at the Centers for Disease Control saying it’s gearing up to be a bad flu season, several North Carolina hospitals are taking no chances and requiring that all employees either get a flu shot or be fired.

This past summer, officials at First Health Moore Regional Hospital adopted a policy that requires all staff who routinely work in patient care areas to be vaccinated annually for influenza.

Officials at the care facilities say the forward-thinking policy was put in place because the common flu may have not-so-common effects on people facing more serious illnesses and whose immune systems are not strong enough to combat the virus.

First Health is just one of several North Carolina medical facilities taking the aggressive preventative approach.

“It’s definitely a national trend,” says Dr. B. Anthony Lindsey, chief medical officer for University of North Carolina Hospitals, where the policy is also in its pilot year.  “Influenza is an extremely contagious disease.  For some of our patients, it could have very serious consequences — including death.”

Most hospitals already require tuberculosis tests and hepatitis shots, but while the flu may be more common than those illnesses, its impact could be just as serious.

“Hospitals require personnel to get tested for tuberculosis so that they don’t spread that disease. The flu shot requirement is no different,” says ABC News’ chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser.

Cone Health Systems, a conglomerate of five North Carolina hospitals, was one of the first hospital groups to put the policy in place three years ago during the H1N1, or “bird flu,” outbreak.  Since that time, two people who work closely with patients have been fired for not taking the vaccine — showing hospitals are not taking chances on patients’ health.

“Our values at this hospital is that we care for our patients, we care for others and we care for our community,” says Dr. Mary Jo Cagle, the executive vice president and chief quality officer for Cone Health.  “It’s not unusual in many venues — in schools, and in many jobs — to have to require vaccinations. ”

There are exceptions, ranging from health to religious reasons, that hospitals take into account.  Employees who fall under those categories are not considered non-compliant.

The policies at these medical facilities come just as the Centers for Disease Control warns of a bad flu season.  CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said Monday that instances of the flu had arrived a full month earlier than normal.

“It looks like it’s shaping up to be a bad flu season,” Frieden said.

Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas have reported enough seasonal flu cases to officially mark the beginning of the flu season.

“We’re seeing the beginning of the uptick start at least a month before we’d generally see it,” Frieden said, explaining that flu rates typically start to rise in early January.

Only 37 percent of Americans eligible for the flu vaccine actually get vaccinated for the virus.

“This is a part of our hospital’s and other hospitals’ nationwide attempt to provide the safest possible care of the patients for whom we’re responsible,” Frieden said. “This is just another part of that effort.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


WHO Says Pregnant Women Need Flu Vaccine Most

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- This flu season, the World Health Organization says pregnant women should be given top priority for flu vaccinations, putting them above the elderly, children and people with chronic health conditions.

Pregnant women are considered especially vulnerable to the flu because their immune systems are slightly depressed to accommodate the growing fetus, doctors say.  The mother's body does this so her immune won't attack the unborn baby, which includes foreign DNA.

"They're not more likely to get it, but if they get it, they're more likely to have severe morbidity or actually die from it," said Dr. Jon Abramson, a pediatrician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina.

When the immune system is down, the mother's body can't fight the flu off as easily, Abramson said.  It can then escalate and result in pneumonia and other health problems.  Even if the flu doesn't result in hospitalization, the baby is more likely to have a low birth weight or be born premature, especially if the mother gets the flu in the third trimester.

Although doctors have recommended the flu vaccine to pregnant women for decades, the 2009 pandemic got people's attention.  According to a WHO report, pregnant women in New York City were 7.2 times more likely to be hospitalized for influenza than non-pregnant women during the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

Lori Wolfe, who directs the Texas Teratogen Information Service Pregnancy Risk Line, said more women call her because they are afraid of getting the flu shot, not the flu.  Since 2009, Wolfe and her colleagues have made it a practice to always recommend the flu shot to callers.

"When women are pregnant, there's some concern about anything entering their system.  The thought of having to get a vaccination alone is scary to a lot of them," Wolfe said, adding that they usually understand why it's important to get one after the teratologist explains flu risks to them.

Abramson said there's no way to get the flu from a flu shot (not the nasal spray) because the virus inside the shot is dead.  Even once the baby is born, the mother's flu antibodies are passed to the baby through the placenta and protect him or her for up to six months.  By then, the baby can get a flu shot, too.

Wolfe said a woman can get a flu vaccine at any time during her pregnancy.  Other than the risk of miscarriage or premature birth if the mother is severely sick, a fever above 102 degrees presents the biggest developmental hazards to the fetus.

A Danish study published earlier this month also found a correlation between the flu during pregnancy and autism, reinforcing experts recommendations that all pregnant women should be vaccinated.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Flu Shot Cracks Egg Problem

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new seasonal flu vaccine made using animal cells instead of chicken eggs, a move experts say will cut vaccine production times in the event of an outbreak.

The vaccine, called Flucelvax and made by Novartis, is approved for flu prevention in people 18 and older.  The drug manufacturing process is similar to the half-century-old method of growing the vaccine in an egg.  But it’s faster -- meaning Flucelvax production could be quickly ramped up in response to a pandemic.

“This cell-based technology removes hens and roosters and eggs from the vaccine manufacturing process, which means the vaccine could be made more rapidly, and that’s a terrific advantage,” said Dr. William Schaffner, president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.  “It also removes any lingering concern about egg allergies.”

Unlike the egg-based method, in which samples of seasonal flu virus are injected into chicken eggs and incubated, cell-based technology combines small amounts of virus with nutrients and cells in large fermenting tanks.

“All the time it takes for chickens and roosters to do their business is cut short by having this stockpile of frozen cells ready to go,” said Schaffner, describing how complicated it is to produce eggs while also maintaining sterility.  “When you’re dealing with chickens and eggs, of course there are rigorous processes to disinfect the eggs to make sure no there’s no bacteria.  But you avoid all that with cell-based vaccine production because the cells are kept sterile from very beginning.”

The vaccine is isolated from the cells and purified, just as it would be in the egg-based method, according to Schaffner.

“Once the vaccine is produced it’s just like the old vaccine,” he said.

In a clinical trial of about 7,700 people, Flucelvax was 83.8 percent effective in preventing flu compared to a placebo, according to the FDA.

Cell culture technology has been used for several decades to produce other vaccines in the U.S., according to the FDA.  But Flucelvax is the first flu vaccine to be produced using the newer method.

“It’s a proven technology, a more modern technology, and now we’re applying it to the flu vaccine,” said Schaffner.  “It means you can get more vaccine in the pipeline and into people more quickly.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Discovery May Hold Key for Universal Flu Vaccine

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- We might not have a cure for the common cold, but scientists have discovered a potentially powerful new treatment for much more dangerous flu viruses.

Researchers at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., and Crucell Vaccine Institute in the Netherlands say they have discovered a human antibody that protects against essentially all influenza A and B strains.

The researchers believe the antibody could be used to offer something that has never been available before – an actual treatment for patients who are infected with the flu. Currently, such patients are only given supportive treatment while their bodies fight off the infection on their own.

The discovery may even pave the way to a universal flu vaccine, effective against nearly all flu strains, that could be delivered in a one-time shot similar to immunization against diseases like chickenpox and measles.

Ideally, such a vaccine would eliminate the need for annual flu shots, which are specifically tailored to seasonal strains.

Their report appeared Thursday in the journal Science.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Few Adults in Late 30s Got Flu Shots During Swine Flu Outbreak

Joe Raedle/Getty Images(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) -- Flu season may be a few months old, but peak season is yet to come.  And new research has found that a large number of people at risk may still be refusing to protect themselves.

Flu normally hits hardest in January or February, and infectious disease specialists say so far, this season has been very mild.  But there are reports that nine people have died from swine flu this season in Mexico -- where the first swine flu outbreak began back in 2009, ultimately claiming 17,000 lives worldwide.

Despite knowing how potentially deadly swine flu could be, a new report has found that only 20 percent of adults in their late 30s said they got a flu shot during the 2009 outbreak.

In a survey, researchers from the University of Michigan asked approximately 3,000 adults between the ages of 36 and 39 -- members of the age group known as Generation X -- questions about how they responded to the 2009 swine flu pandemic, such as how they kept informed about the illness and whether they got flu shots to protect themselves or their family members.

The researchers have been following this same group of people for 25 years, and every year they survey them about their attitudes and behaviors related to different issues. Their work is known as the Longitudinal Study of American Youth (LSAY).

According to the latest results delving into attitudes about the flu vaccine, only one in five adults got a flu shot, but nearly 65 percent said they were moderately concerned about the swine flu, and about 60 percent said they kept informed about it.

"This was the first epidemic that was relevant to this age group," said Jon Miller, director of LSAY at the University of Michigan.  "We were interested in how they used their prior science knowledge and prior education to make sense of this thing."

Adults in this age group, he explained, are very adept at gathering information from a variety of sources, including newspapers, magazines, online and from family, friends, and colleagues.

While they managed to stay abreast of what was happening with the disease outbreak, the majority of them did not get flu shots.  Though, a larger number of the cohort with young children at home did get the flu shot to prevent the swine flu.

"If they had children at home, and about two-thirds of them did, it became more relevant to them to get a flu shot," he said.

Miller added the researchers did not ask the survey participants why they didn't get vaccinated, but he and other experts say a number of factors likely came into play.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Apps and Appliances to Boost Immunity, Soothe Flu Symptoms

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The best defense against the flu is the vaccine, which can reduce the risk of contracting the illness by 59 percent.  But there's also an array of gadgets that can boost your protection and soothe your symptoms if you do get infected.

Check out these flu-fighting apps and appliances:

-- Neti Pot: The Neti pot is an ancient nasal irrigation system used to flush the sinuses with warm salt water.  It can help ease the congestion that often stems from the flu.  But don't overdo it.  People who irrigated daily were more prone to sinus infections, according to a 2009 study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology annual meeting.

-- Humidifier: Chapped lips and dry, sore skin -- especially under the nose -- are par for the course during flu season.  A humidifier can help keep the air moist, easing the dryness.  It might also help halt the spread of the flu, according to a 2009 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

-- Nasal Strips: Nasal strips can help pull the nostrils open to ease congestion, especially at night.  Some strips contain menthol -- a vaporized plant extract that can relive congestion and make breathing easier.

-- Pillbox: Flu medications come in all shapes, sizes and formulations. If you ditched the drug packaging in a flu-induced haze, make sure you know what you're taking by checking -- a pill identification system from the National Institutes of Health.

-- Online Flu Trackers: Knowing where flu is and how to avoid it can boost your chances of making it through the season unscathed.  Flu trackers like Google Flu Trends can help.  Research shows the search engine data lines up well with national statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

-- Veggie Steamer: Eating steamed veggies is a great way to boost your immune system and get your daily vitamins. Steaming veggies rather than frying them preserves their flu-fighting antioxidants, according to a 2008 report in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Boiled veggies are healthy, too. So fill up on soup loaded with vitamin-rich carrots, sweet potato, spinach, and broccoli.

-- Soup Maker: Besides getting lots of rest, filling up on fluids is the best advice for soothing flu symptoms.  Making your own soup is a great way to get fluids and vitamins at the same time, with some decongesting spices and steam to boot.  Adding ginger and garlic to soup can help boost the taste and get things flowing inside your sinuses. Hot peppers are good too -- if you can take the heat.

-- Juicer: Make the most of your fluids by packing them full of immunity-boosting vitamins and antioxidants.  Try mixing oranges with green tea, ginger and a bit of honey for a frothy, flu-fighting brew.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Oral Flu Vaccine on the Horizon?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SEOUL) -- Results from a new study have added to mounting evidence that an oral flu vaccine may be more effective than flu shots.

Researchers from the International Vaccine Institute in Korea found that administering a certain flu antigen under the tongue of mice prevented the mice from getting infected with many flu viruses, including the avian and swine flu.

The antigen, called matrix protein 2 (M2), has already been found to protect against most strains of the flu and is also contained in the injectable form of the vaccine. Although flu virus strains change yearly, the M2 protein remains the same in most viruses, suggesting that the protein could hold the key to developing a universal oral vaccine.

But the protein does not boost lung immunity in the shot the way it does in the experimental oral vaccine.

“It’s a fascinating concept in part because this appears to be a valid phenomenon, at least in mice,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Why it is the oral as opposed to the injection that works is a mystery.”

FluMist, an intranasal spray used to deliver the flu vaccine, is the needle-weary person’s best alternative to the flu shot. Unlike the oral vaccine, FluMist is a live tamed virus that is shot up the nose. The experimental oral vaccine contains only part of the virus.

The findings, published in the November issue of the journal PLoS ONE, suggest that a universal oral flu vaccine may be in the works. If the research translates to humans, it could potentially offer a stronger form of the vaccine, potentially able to withstand some of the changes in the flu strain that occur each year.

But research is still in the early stages.

“While we’re waiting for this great new vaccine, let’s all get protected with the one we have,” said Schaffner.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Beyond the Flu Shot: Other Ways to Fight Influenza

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With the winter flu season typically peaking in January and February, there's still time to get a flu shot. But there are other ways to lessen the chances of being sidelined from work and play with a high fever, chills, fatigue and body aches.

People talk about colds and flu in the same breath, but once flu gets a foothold in the nose, throat and lungs, it brings a higher level of misery, not to mention mortality.  Flu kills 3,300 to 48,600 Americans every year and leaves more than 200,000 hospitalized with complications like pneumonia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.  Most vulnerable are the elderly or chronically ill, whose immune systems have been worn down, and infants, whose immune systems haven't yet been built up.

Seasonal influenza viruses may change their genetic structure from year to year, but the basic strategy for surviving them doesn't, starting with the flu vaccine that U.S. health officials recommend for everyone older than 6 months.  From there, though, flu avoidance involves committing to a range of mostly simple steps.

The Sunny Solution:
Emerging science about the disease-defeating effects of vitamin D, which we obtain either from sunshine or supplements, suggests that it can create a protective internal barrier between our cells and flu viruses.  Most of the evidence remains suggestive, based on what happens in test-tubes or animals.

Hand Hygiene:
Never underestimate the power of old-fashioned soap and warm water to rinse away flu viruses from hands that touch a myriad of potentially germy surfaces every day.  If you can't find a sink, reach for alcohol-based hand sanitizers, advises Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt, University in Tennessee.

Keep Your Immune System Tuned Up:
Sufficient sleep, regular exercise and eating healthfully can keep your immune system in good working order and ready to stand up to flu.  And research continues to suggest that keeping a lid on stress is essential for a healthy immune system.  That's because chronic stress triggers excess production of cortisol, a hormone that suppresses important infection-fighting cells.

Ease Up On Nose-Blowing:
Blowing your nose hard increases pressure in your sinuses, forcing germ-laden mucus further into your nasal passages, according to University of Virginia researchers. They used CT scans to track what happened when study subjects blew their noses, sneezed and coughed; driving viruses deeper into your sinuses, which could can prolong your misery, Schaffner says.  Consider loosening nasal secretions with a hot, steamy shower, then you can blow your nose with less risk.

The Last Resort -- Antiviral Drugs:
If all else has failed and you feel the flu coming on, call your doctor and ask about a prescription for one of the antiviral drugs, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza).  These can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by one or two days, according to the CDC.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Top Tips for the Flu Season

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Flu season is here. But what’s the big deal about the flu? It’s just the flu, right?


If you’re young and healthy, most likely you will just feel lousy for a week or two, miss some work, and spread the infection to some of your favorite people. If you’re elderly, have medical problems, are pregnant, or are a young child, you may not be so lucky. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza. Depending on the year, between 3,000 and 49,000 people die.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated.

A new study on flu vaccines found that the flu vaccine doesn’t work as well as we thought or would like. However, it still offers considerable protection. In adults ages 18-65 the benefits of the flu shot vary year by year, but on average the vaccine is 59-percent protective. For children the story is better. For those younger than 7 the nasal spray vaccine is 83-percent protective. Clearly, we need better vaccines but it’s still a really good idea to get vaccinated.

A couple of myths to bust:

1.  Can the flu shot give me the flu?

No. You may have a sore arm or a little fever, but the shot does not contain a live virus and cannot give you the flu.

2.  If I got the flu shot last year, do I need it this year?

Yes.  It isn’t clear how long protection lasts and most years the vaccine protects against different strains of flu than the year before.

How do you know if you have the flu or just a bad cold? Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and frequently and include high fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat and body aches. Some people, particularly children, may have diarrhea and vomiting. If you have these symptoms, do not come to work. The last thing you really want to do is infect others.

Finally, here is some advice for what to do if you get the flu.

If you have underlying medical problems, call your doctor early in the illness to see if they want to
prescribe an antiviral drug.

Stay home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. That will cut down on the number of
people you give this to.

Cover your coughs and sneezes.

Keep your hands clean. Use soap and water or hand sanitizer frequently, especially after coughing or sneezing.

Drink plenty of liquids.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio