Entries in H1N1 (9)


CDC: Swine Flu Far Deadlier Than Estimated

Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The swine flu virus, H1N1, may have killed 15 times the number of people counted by the World Health Organization, according to a new study. And unlike the seasonal flu, the H1N1 pandemic struck down mostly young people, many living in Africa and Southeast Asia.

Beginning in 2009, the virus swept the globe, and the WHO counted 18,500 swine flu deaths that had been confirmed by laboratory tests. But according to new estimates from researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus probably killed between 105,700 and 400,000 people around the world in its first year alone, and an additional 46,000 to 179,000 people likely died of cardiovascular complications from the virus.

That's a pretty wide gap in death rates, but it's not unusual. The numbers of flu deaths confirmed by lab tests usually understate how many people actually died from the virus, simply because most doctors around the world don't have the time or the resources to test their patients for the virus and report cases to health authorities.

"This is a problem year in and year out, from London to Nairobi," said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "It's so difficult to test everyone with influenza."

The problem is greater in countries with few medical resources.

"In some countries, data on influenza are quite sparse or nonexistent," said Dr. Fatimah Dawood, the study's lead author. And she said even if a patient is tested, sometimes the virus might not even be detectable.

The study, published today in the medical journal The Lancet, is the first attempt to provide a global estimate of how many deaths actually occurred during the first year of the swine flu pandemic.

Researchers were more surprised by who the virus targeted. According to the CDC analysis, 80 percent of deaths from the swine flu pandemic were of people under age 65, not the older, frail adults who are typically the victims of seasonal flu. Geographically, 59 percent of the deaths were in Africa and Southeast Asia.

"The number of potential years of life that were lost was far higher than what we would anticipate during a seasonal flu epidemic," Dawood said.

Though the virus was deadly, the swine flu pandemic is still considered to have been a fairly mild one. The CDC calculates that up to 575,000 people may have died from H1N1 in 2009. The WHO estimates that the seasonal flu kills up to 500,000 people each year. Both pale in comparison to the flu pandemic of 1918, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

"It just drives home how serious the disease can be -- that even the mildest pandemic we have an historic record of may have killed more than half a million people," said John Barry, author of The Great Influenza.

Taking the flu seriously also involves taking annual vaccinations seriously. The CDC recommends that everyone over age 6 months get a flu shot each year.

"This should remind us in the fall that this is the time to get vaccinated," Schaffner said. "It's the best preventive measure we have available."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Controversial Deadly Bird Flu Research Finally Published

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- After months of controversial government assessment, the journal Nature published research Wednesday that discloses methodology behind creating a deadly strain of bird flu that could kill millions.

By conducting research in ferrets, a team of Japanese and U.S. researchers found that it would take four mutations of the bird flu virus for the strain to successfully spread from birds to mammals. The research comes after months of delay because of arguments that pitted the cause of medical preparedness against the dangers of disclosing information that could help bioterrorists.

The study is the first of two research papers that discuss the methodology behind creating deadly avian flu strains that have potential to kill millions.

“Currently, we do not know whether the mutations that we identified in this study that allowed the [study strain] virus to be transmissible in ferrets would also support sustained human-to-human transmission,” study authors wrote. “In particular, we wish to emphasize that the transmissible [study strain] virus possesses seven segments [all but the HA segment] from a human pandemic 2009 H1N1 virus.”

The second paper, which will be published in the journal Science, discusses the methodology behind a deadly H5N1 strain created in a Dutch laboratory at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam by scientist Ron Fouchier.

The team, headed by Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, submitted the paper last year to the journal, but publication was delayed after the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity made the unprecedented decision to assess the findings prior to publication. But, in a commentary published Wednesday, Nature editors noted that “a paper that omits key results or methods disables subsequent research and peer review....We cannot imagine any mechanism or criterion by which to sensibly judge who should or should not be allowed to see the work.”

They also remarked, “Where there is a benefit to public health or science, publish!”

Since it appeared in 1996, H5N1 has killed hundreds of millions of birds, but transmission to humans has been rare. There have been about 600 confirmed cases of infections in people, mostly people who worked directly with poultry. While rare, it is a deadly human disease. About 60 percent of those who had confirmed cases of the virus died.

Up until now, experts believed that the strain was transmissible from person to person only through very close contact, but Fouchier mutated the strain, creating an airborne virus that could be easily transmitted through coughs and sneezes.

“Research into how flu viruses change, how they develop the ability to infect different species, is critically important for preparing for pandemics,” said Dr. Richard Besser, chief medical editor at ABC News. “It helps you predict what the next pandemic might be and to develop new vaccines.”

The dilemma is that this sort of research has dangers, Besser said. But manipulating the genome of microorganisms is now something even a talented high school student can do.

“The fear is that terrorists will take the lessons from this kind of research and use it to deliberately cause disease,” said Besser. “How you balance the importance for public health with the potential for harm is extremely challenging.”

Experts contacted by ABC News in December were split on whether the research should be published. While most virologists believe in non-censorship for the good of public health, some talked about the potential danger of releasing information on a virus that was so easily mutated.

“The idea that biosecurity consists in policing scientists or chimerical ‘bioterrorists’ is dangerous nonsense,” said Philip Alcabes, a professor in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. “Who knows what the motives of the self-professed biosecurity experts really are, but in practice, their ridiculous pronouncements promote vast expenditures of taxpayer monies that achieve little outside of propping up the very biosecurity industry from which the warnings come.”

“Censorship offends me, particularly in science,” John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, said in December. “Nonetheless, I think there should be review of something like this...but not necessarily by the government. It should be done by people who respect scientific openness, and publishing should be the default position.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Swine Flu Back Again?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is heightening its surveillance of a specific subtype of swine flu, according to a report from the agency. The report says that state public health labs across the country should notify the CDC immediately if they suspect someone is infected with the virus.

The CDC reports that since August, 12 people have been infected with the virus, called H3N2, in five states: Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Of the total, 11 were children, three were hospitalized and all have fully recovered.

The report said officials have observed two different scenarios of transmission: workers getting the virus from pigs and humans catching it from one another, which was the cause of two of the newest cases at a West Virginia day care.

“Nonhuman influenza virus infections rarely result in human-to-human transmission, but the implications of sustained ongoing transmission between humans is potentially severe,” the report said.

Swine flu swept the globe beginning in 2009, when the H1N1 subtype of the virus was first detected in the United States. An estimated 43 million to 89 million Americans caught swine flu during the pandemic, and 8,870 to 18,300 people died from it, according to the CDC.

The government launched a major initiative to get the public vaccinated, giving $1.6 billion to pharmaceutical companies and vaccine makers to ensure there was enough vaccine to go around. But vaccine supplies exceeded demand as public interest dwindled.

The World Health Organization officially declared an end to the H1N1 pandemic in August 2010.

The flu vaccine available this year includes the H3N2 virus, along with the H1N1 virus. Officials are again encouraging people to get vaccinated. The CDC recommends that anyone age 6 months and older be vaccinated for the flu.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Swine Flu Strain Keeps Health Officials on Alert

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- A new swine flu strain has infected 10 Americans since the summer, and health authorities, both here and abroad, are on the alert for more cases.

The new flu strain combines parts of a rare influenza virus -- H3N2 -- circulating in North American pigs, and the H1N1 virus from the 2009 worldwide flu outbreak. New flu strains develop when flu viruses combine in new ways. They can pose health risks because people haven’t yet developed immunity to them.

Since July, nine U.S. children and a 58-year-old U.S. man have been sickened by the new swine flu strain -- S-OtrH3N2 -- which picked up a gene from the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, according to the CDC.

“Everybody is watching,” Jeff Dimond, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said Tuesday.

Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection will follow ongoing U.S. surveillance and heed any advice from the World Health Organization, according to a statement issued Tuesday. WHO is currently working on a public health response should the virus continue spreading.

The new swine flu strain has drawn particular interest because none of the Iowa children sickened last month -- all of whom have recovered and are doing fine -- nor their families had known contact with pigs, suggesting person-to-person transmission.

“That’s the mystery of it,” said Dimond. “Flu, by its definition, is unpredictable. That’s one of the vexing characteristics of the virus.”

But so far, he said, “the virus has not shown any sustained human-to-human transference. We’re keeping an eye on it” as the Iowa Health Department leads the investigation.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security and environment, told CBC News that WHO wants to be prepared, but doesn’t want to cause undue alarm when global spread isn’t a certainty. “We’re very aware that we don’t want to overplay or underlay,” Fukuda told the CBC.

International health officials need to strike a delicate balance: If they warn of pandemics that don’t pan out, as when the 2009 H1N1 pandemic barely affected Europe, they risk criticism for inciting panic and look ineffectual.

As part of routine preparedness to counter pandemic threats from new flu viruses, the CDC said it had developed a “candidate vaccine virus” that could be used to make a human vaccine against S-OtrH3N2 viruses, and has sent it to vaccine manufacturers.

CDC scientists said they expected this years’ seasonal flu vaccine to provide adults with limited protection from the new flu virus, but that it wouldn’t help children. They recommended that doctors who suspect swine flu infections in their patients treat them with Tamiflu where appropriate, obtain nose and throat specimens and send them to state public health labs, which should report them to CDC. The CDC also encourages anyone who has contact with pigs and develops flulike symptoms to get tested.

“In the meantime, the most important things people can do are wash their hands with warm soap and water,” Dimond said. “If not, use hand sanitizer.” And, he said, avoid touching your eyes or mouth with your hands, as that can spread germs.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


H1N1 Flu Vaccine Not Linked to Risk of Paralysis, Researchers Say

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(ROTTERDAM, Netherlands) -- Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare condition in which a person’s immune system attacks nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.  

Although in the past there has been some concern that flu vaccines may increase the risk of this condition, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that people in five European countries who received the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 were at no greater risk of Guillain-Barré as those who did not receive the shot.  

Furthermore, the authors from Erasmus University Medical Center estimate, based on their results, that the actual risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome is less than three cases for every one million individuals protected by the vaccination.  

Authors of the accompanying editorial write that although the H1N1 stand-alone vaccine is no longer being used, “data on their safety are relevant to current clinical practice because the H1N1 strain in the pandemic vaccine has been incorporated into the currently recommended trivalent seasonal vaccine.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Is 'Risk Zone' Reduction Key to Understanding Disease Spread?

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(CANBERRA, Australia) -- The great increase in plane travel in the past 60 years has increased the spread of infectious diseases around the world.  A great example is the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic.  How likely an infection will spread on a plane is dependent on many factors, including the type of virus, the length of the flight and how much passengers and crew move around.  Usually, the infectious “risk zone” for the flu is about two rows of seats on either side of the infected passenger.  But a new study from the Department of Health and Ageing in Australia suggests that the risk zone may be smaller than previously thought.
The authors analyzed the transmission of the H1N1 flu from surveys and infection records of passengers on two international flights to Australia in 2009.  

Turns out that people seated in the two-row area around an passenger known to have had flu symptoms before the flight were only at a 3.6 percent greater risk of catching the infection.  However, when the authors looked at passengers seated in a smaller area around the infected person -- two seats in front, two seats behind and two seats on either side -- they found that those passengers were at 7.7 percent greater risk of catching the flu.  

Therefore, reducing the area of the “risk zone” could improve the efficiency of tracing disease spread and identifying potentially exposed patients without compromising the effectiveness of public health interventions.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Orleans Boy Home From Hospital After 480-Day Battle With H1N1

ABC News(NEW ORLEANS) -- A seven-year-old boy was released from a New Orleans hospital Sunday after a 480-day battle with H1N1 influenza; the once pandemic virus remembered not so fondly as swine flu.

Robert "Boo" Maddox V was admitted to New Orleans Children's Hospital in critical condition Nov. 19, 2009, five months after the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 outbreak a global pandemic.

Boo's epic hospital stay, which spanned two birthdays and included 10 surgeries, was a shock therapy of sorts for a family once unfamiliar with the agony of having a sick child.

"I've got five kids, the oldest being 20, the youngest three, we never had a sickness," Boo's dad, Robert Maddox IV, told ABC News affiliate WGNO.  "So we didn't really realize what went on [in] these places, but God has ... [given] us a valuable lesson that will stick with us the rest of our lives."

H1N1 wreaked havoc on Boo's body, leaving him open to one complication after another.

"There were times when it seemed like he was getting better, and then he'd have a setback," Children's Hospital communications manager Chris Price said.

Machines took over for Boo's heart and lungs while he fought off near-fatal infections, he said.  But even with organs failing, the lively "jokester" never lost hope, or his sense of humor, Price added.

"He loved to pull pranks," he said.  "He would put little rubber roaches in the bed with him for when the nurses would come.  That's one of the most amazing things: to spend 480 days stuck in a bed in one room and to still have a sense of humor."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


WHO Investigates Link Between H1N1 Vaccine and Narcolepsy

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(GENEVA, Switzerland  ) -- The World Health Organization has confirmed it is looking into the possibility that the H1N1 vaccine is linked to a rare sleeping disorder, reports the BBC.

The WHO launched its investigation after reports from at least 12 countries surfaced that there may be a link between the swine flu vaccination and narcolepsy, a condition where a person suddenly and unexpectedly falls asleep. The organization, however, says the condition has never before been linked to a vaccine.

Among those countries reporting such a link are Finland, Sweden, Iceland and the United Kingdom.

Despite the possible link, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has said that the Pandermrix vaccine is effective and should continue to be used.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Post-Holiday Flu Increase Expected

Photo Courtesy - Med Immune(ATLANTA) – Flu activity has continued to pick up in the United States, with a post-holiday increase expected until late January.

MedPage Today reports that influenza activity has settled into a more typical pattern after last year’s H1N1 outbreak, when the flu season peaked in the fall instead of the winter.

"Flu is now with us," Dr. Dan Jernigan, deputy director of the CDC's influenza division, told MedPage. "All the indexes that we follow indicate that the season has started."

Seventy percent of the circulating viruses in the U.S. are influenza A strains, said Jernigan. A vast majority of those are H3N2 with very few 2009 H1N1 strains.

Jernigan said vaccinations are extremely important due to the severe outcomes of the H3N2 strain.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio