Entries in Influenza (24)


Virulent Flu Season Winding Down

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- This year's virulent -- and in some cases fatal -- flu season is winding down, health officials say.

While the rate of flu activity is still elevated above normal for the end of March, activity declined in most parts of the U.S. last week. According to the Center for Disease Control, only one state, Michigan, is still reporting high levels of flu activity.

On the contrary, 38 states reported experiencing minimal flu activity. In a season that has been particularly dangerous for older people and younger children, the end of flu season is a welcome sight.

According to HealthDay News, just over 50 percent of flu-related hospitalizations have involved people over the age of 65.

While the official statistics on this flu season have not been released, officials insist that the number of flu-related deaths this year are above the threshold used to declare a flu epidemic.

Flu season usually peaks in late January and early February. The flu vaccine remains the best defense against the flu, says the CDC.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Influenza Sorbet: Cold Remedy Comes in Dessert Form

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It has been a record flu season so far, and people are doing whatever they can to avoid coming down with the ailment.  But what can you do if you already have it?

Enter Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.  The Ohio-based company’s Influenza Sorbet won’t cure the flu, but it will definitely make you feel better, said Jeni Britton Bauer, the company’s founder and president.

The Influenza Sorbet contains honey, ginger, orange juice and lemon juice.  And if that weren’t enough, it also has Maker’s Mark bourbon and cayenne pepper.

The result is a soothing sorbet with kick.  It might not be what the doctor ordered, but Bauer said it works.

“My mother and grandmother made something very similar to that as a drink when I was a kid, even with the whiskey,” Bauer said on Sunday.  “Whiskey, honey and lemon juice and that was our cough medicine and they would thin it out and make it into a hot drink.”

Her company makes ice cream, but she got the idea to add the sorbet to her product line in 2004.

“When the flu hit in 2004, it was like supposed to be the worst flu since 1918 and it was like all over the news people were dying from it.  It was horrible and I thought, ‘Gosh, I could do this sorbet,’” she recalled.

The sorbet also contains pectin, which coats the throat.  The honey lubricates the throat and the cayenne pepper helps clear the nasal passages, she added.

The result is a product that soothes irritated throats and relieves scratchiness, helping sufferers get needed sleep, she said.

With the severity of this flu season, interest in the Influenza Sorbet is soaring, Bauer said, but insists the sorbet is more than just a home remedy -- it tastes good, too.

“It is really delicious,” she said.  “The cayenne doesn’t have flavor, it just has the kick, the physical property of the heat, and then all of the other ingredients are just so perfect together.  You can just imagine it as a cocktail.  A whiskey sour plus ginger."

“All those things go together so well and it really tastes great,” said Bauer, adding that she had customers who buy it when it’s available and store it in their freezers so they can have it during the summer.

Jeni’s Influenza Sorbet will be available through February and into March.  It retails for $12 per pint and is sold at all Jeni’s stores in Columbus, Ohio, Cleveland and Nashville, Tenn., as well as on the company’s website.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Flu Outbreak Leads to High-Five Ban in New York City

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In an effort to combat the spread of the flu, a kiddie league in New York City has banned players from giving high-fives at soccer games.

The rule comes in the wake of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to declare a statewide public health emergency because of the potentially deadly virus.

The ban was recommended by Dr. Valerie Parkas, who is not only the Manhattan Soccer Club president, but an infectious disease specialist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, reports WCBS-TV.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Flu Epidemic Waning but Could Still Make Comeback

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu cases had waned in recent weeks but that the cold-weather virus could still make a comeback before the end of the season.

"It's not surprising," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said in teleconference last Friday.  "Influenza ebbs and flows during the flu season.  The only thing predictable about the flu is that it is unpredictable."

Flu cases have been recorded in 47 states so far this year.  But only 24 states reported high flu activity levels in the first week of January compared with the 29 that reported high flu activity in the last week of December.  Another 16 states reported moderate levels of activity during the same week in January, while five reported low levels and one reported minimal levels.

Hospitals in many areas of the country have said they've been overwhelmed by this year's epidemic, which came on hard, fast and early.  The disease prompted a public health emergency in Boston, where health officials said last week that 700 people had been diagnosed with the infectious respiratory disease, and 18 had died from flu-related complications in the state.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a public health emergency at the end of last week, allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines to patients six months to 18 years old.  The executive order suspended a state law that limited immunizations to people older than 18.

The CDC urged all Americans to get flu shots if they hadn't already.  Heightened demand has caused some providers to run out of the vaccine, but officials said there was still plenty to go around.  They encouraged people to call ahead before heading out to a local clinic to get immunized.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical correspondent, said this could be the worst flu epidemic in a decade, but that it's not too late to protect yourself from the virus.

"You have to think about an anti-viral, especially if you're elderly, a young child, a pregnant woman," Besser said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Flu Outbreak Causes Oklahoma School District to Cancel Classes

Hemera/Thinkstock(TULSA, Okla.) -- The flu outbreak that's sweeping the nation has caused one school district in Oklahoma to cancel classes as 25 percent of the student body is ill.

On Thursday, the Kiefer public school district announced they would cancel Friday's classes to give students the weekend to rest, as nearly 150 of the 650 students there are suffering from the flu.

Kiefer, located 30 minutes south of Tulsa, will use Friday's day off to clean all of the water fountains, lockers, desks and chairs in the school district, according to ABC News affiliate KTUL-TV.

Eight people have died of flu in Oklahoma since Sept. 30, according to the Oklahoma Department of Health.  The state's health department says that 92 new patients were admitted to hospitals with it between Jan. 2 to Jan. 8.

The fight against the flu has quickly become an uphill battle for doctors across the U.S. Doctors and hospitals are running low on flu shots as they cannot keep up with the demand.

"This is a true national shortage," Randy Tartacoff, a doctor at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J., told ABC News.  

"Today, we could be getting 30 doses in and that could be sufficient, but that can be gone in 30 minutes," Cheryl Fattibene, a nurse at CVS Minutes Clinic in Bryn Mawr, Pa., said.

Pharmacists are also struggling to fill prescription orders.  "Right now we're getting 24 boxes of Tamiflu, but we're getting 40 or 50 prescriptions," said Andy Komuves, a pharmacist in Dallas.

Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston was forced to go on Amber Alert Thursday, forcing an all-hands-on-deck situation as flu patients flooded the emergency room.

"…People who are going off shift will not be allowed to go home until after we've completely evaluated what we need," Dr. Ron Wells said.

Wells said he has never seen an outbreak as severe as this during his 19-year career.  "I would say over the last week to 10 days, it's been pretty consistently crazy, dramatically worse than what we've seen in prior years," he said.

On Wednesday, Boston declared a public health emergency, with the city's hospitals counting about 1,500 emergency room visits since December by people with flu-like symptoms.  Flu is being blamed for at least 18 deaths in Massachusetts.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Less Flu in Connecticut? CDC Says Looks Can Be Deceiving

CDC(WASHINGTON) -- Connecticut is a lone green state in a sea of red, but we’re not talking politics.  

Connecticut shows up on a map as a state with minimal flu-like illness, surrounded by states with high flu-like activity levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The agency has just issued its Influenza Surveillance Report, or ILINet, for the last week of December.

But if you’re worried about the flu, that’s not a reason to move to Hartford, health professionals say.  Connecticut is far from flu-free, and CDC data aren’t perfect.

“Germs don’t respect state lines,” said ABC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.  He said Connecticut certainly didn’t escape the flu just because other states have had higher percentages of outpatient office visits.

It’s possible that Connecticut’s numbers were artificially deflated because of students’ winter break, said William Gerrish, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Public Health.  College student health centers account for a large percentage of flu reports in the state.

“Unfortunately, these student health centers have been essentially closed during the long holiday break, resulting in an artificially low statewide ILINet activity level,” he said.

Gerrish also said that a separate flu map, which includes only laboratory-confirmed flu cases, shows Connecticut as a state with “widespread” flu cases, meaning that no areas are flu-free.  (ILINet is broader and includes flu-like illnesses.)

“These indicators clearly show that Connecticut has not avoided the flu,” Gerrish said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


How Companies Can Prevent an Office Flu Epidemic

Pixland/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- What has been called the worst flu season in a decade could cost companies billions of dollars in employee health care costs for hospitalizations and more outpatient visits.

According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annual influenza epidemics result in an average 3.1 million hospitalized days and $10.4 billion in direct medical costs annually, based on the 2003 U.S. population.

Kathleen Caminiti, a partner in the New York and New Jersey office of Fisher & Phillips, an Atlanta-based law firm that specializes in labor and employment law, said there were certain precautions employers could take to limit business losses and help their employees.

She said her office had received more inquiries this year than last year from companies asking what they could do to protect themselves and their employees in this “aggressive” flu season, exemplified by Boston declaring a public health emergency on Wednesday.  Eighteen flu deaths hve been reported in Massachusetts.

“The first thing we say is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Caminiti said.

Even encouraging employees to wash their hands or to get flu shots can possibly prevent the spread of germs.  “Having an office manager go out to buy hand sanitizer may be the best $20 you spend,” says Caminiti.

While some employers provide free flu shots in the office, health care settings can require employees to get them.

If a company not in the health field would like to make flu shots mandatory, Caminiti recommended conducting a health risk assessment for the workplace to support the mandate.  The company would also be required to engage in a “very interactive, individualized process” with respect to any employee who objects to a flu shot for health or religious reasons.

John Challenger, CEO of executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas, said employers need to assess whether their work culture encourages those who are sick to stay home.

“Not only do people not want to come in when others around them are sick, but companies are realizing when there’s an outbreak, the whole work force goes down,” he said.

Caminiti said some companies might be inclined to be more lenient with those who call in sick, allowing them an extra day to work from home to recover, or not requiring a doctor’s note for those who have not been able to see a doctor.

“As long as you act uniformly, you’re in good shape,” Caminiti said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Hospitals Flooded with Flu Patients, Turn Others Away

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- U.S. emergency rooms have been overwhelmed with flu patients, turning away some of them and others with non-life-threatening conditions for lack of space.

Forty-one states are battling widespread influenza outbreaks, including Illinois, where six people -- all older than 50 -- have died, according to the state's Department of Public Health.

At least 18 children in the country have died during this flu season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The proportion of people seeing their doctor for flu-like symptoms jumped to 5.6 percent from 2.8 percent in the past month, according to the CDC.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago reported a 20 percent increase in flu patients every day.  Northwestern Memorial was one of eight hospitals on bypass Monday and Tuesday, meaning it asked ambulances to take patients elsewhere if they could do so safely.

Most of the hospitals have resumed normal operations, but could return to the bypass status if the influx of patients becomes too great.

"Northwestern Memorial Hospital is an extraordinarily busy hospital, and oftentimes during our busier months, in the summer, we will sometimes have to go on bypass," Northwestern Memorial's Dr. David Zich said.  "We don't like it, the community doesn't like it, but sometimes it is necessary."

A tent outside Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township, Pa., was set up to tend to the overflowing number of flu cases.

A hospital in Ohio is requiring patients with the flu to wear masks to protect those who are not infected.

State health officials in Indiana have reported seven deaths.  Five of the deaths occurred in people older than 65 and two younger than 18.  The state will release another report later on Wednesday.

Doctors are especially concerned about the elderly and children, where the flu can be deadly.

"Our office in the last two weeks has exploded with children," Dr. Gayle Smith, a pediatrician in Richmond, Va., said

It is the earliest flu season in a decade and, ABC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Besser says, it's not too late to protect yourself from the outbreak.

"You have to think about an anti-viral, especially if you're elderly, a young child, a pregnant woman," Besser said.  "They're the people that are going to die from this.  Tens of thousands of people die in a bad flu season.  We're not taking it serious enough."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


New Facebook App Tracks Who Gave You the Flu

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Sure you have tons of Facebook friends, but which ones are contagious?

A new app called Help, I Have the Flu scans your friends' status updates for words like "sniffles," "coughing," and, naturally, "flu" to see which of your pals may have passed along that gift that keeps on giving: the influenza virus.

The app leaves any requisite revenge plotting up to you, offering once you track down your particular Patient Zero, the choice "to have them quarantined or if you're particularly forgiving, send some help."

If you don't have the flu, the app's still useful, suggesting which friends to avoid IRL -- in real life -- until cold and flu season's over.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Hard-Hitting Flu Strain Strikes Early, Health Officials Warn

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- This year's flu season is now in full swing and IS expected to get worse. The flu season typically hits hardest in January and February, but can last until May. With many returning home after holiday travels, the flu is able to spread quickly.

Widespread flu activity is now being reported in much of the country, including the East Coast and in the West in Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Texas and Alaska.  

In Washington state, Tim McDonald with the Snohomish County Health District says they have already seen an increase in flu cases.

"We are having an early influenza season.  And it's a serious influenza season and we've had a definite uptick in hospitalizations," says McDonald.

But why would this flu season be spreading so quickly, so soon? Health experts are exploring the possibilities for a cause of this fast-spreading flu.  Is this a new flu? One that isn't in this year's vaccine? One to which we're not all immune?

Health officials say the problem is that many cases are coming from a strain of influenza -- called subtype B -- which was not included in this year's vaccine.

"It's a new strain that is not absolutely new, but a little bit new to our population," McDonald says.

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC's chief health and medical editor, says that often people are infectious long before they know it, spreading the virus even further.

"There hasn't been an outbreak this early for 10 years, and that year the flu season was severe.  We know that with just one sneeze, the virus can spread almost 20 feet in just seconds.  You're infectious a full day before you show any symptoms; a bad mix," he says.

The fast-spreading nature of this flu has health workers scrambling. McDonald advises that anyone over six months of age is recommended to get a flu shot. A shot helps stop the spread as well as immunize each patient.

"I would urge everyone, not just for themselves, but for their friends, neighbors and relatives and their children, to get vaccinated right away," he says.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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