Monday, October 26, 2009

Morning Fix: The (political) dangers of H1N1

Long lines of people wait for the swine flu vaccine.
Photo by Tracy A. Woodward of the Washington Post

President Obama's decision to declare the H1N1 flu a national emergency over the weekend is a recognition of the political peril the virus could inflict on the White House.

The declaration came after 72 hours of stories -- both locally and nationally -- focused on the long lines for the swine flu vaccine and the mounting fear surrounding the illness.

And, it came just days after a Washington Post/ABC national poll showed that a majority (52 percent) of Americans were worried that they or someone in their family would contract H1N1 -- up from 39 percent who said the same in a mid-August survey.

Given that context, Obama's announcement, which essentially allows hospitals more leeway in the way they deal with the outbreaks, is rightly understood as an attempt to show the American people that the president understands their concern and is ensuring the government is doing everything it can to help.

Read the complete article at:
Morning Fix: The (political) dangers of H1N1

Sunday, October 25, 2009

USA Today: Obesity a swine flu risk factor?

Some swine flu cases in America are raising questions about obesity's role in why some people with infections become seriously ill.

A high proportion of those who have gotten severely ill from swine flu have been obese or extremely obese, but health officials have said that might be due to the fact that heavy people tend to have asthma and other conditions that make them more susceptible. Obesity alone has never been seen as a risk factor for seasonal flu.

But in a report released Friday, health officials detailed the cases of 10 Michigan patients who were very sick from swine flu in late May and early June and ended up at a specialized hospital in Ann Arbor. Three of them died.

Nine of the 10 were either obese or extremely obese. Only three of the 10 had other health problems. Two of the three that died had no other health conditions.

This hardly settles the question of whether obesity is its own risk factor for swine flu. It's possible the patients had undiagnosed heart problems or other unidentified conditions.

Still the finding was striking, investigators acknowledged.

Read the complete article at:
USA Today: Obesity a swine flu risk factor?

New York Times: Worst Case - Choosing Who Survives in a Flu Epidemic

New York state health officials recently laid out this wrenching scenario for a small group of medical professionals from New York-Presbyterian Hospital:

A 32-year-old man with cystic fibrosis is rushed to the hospital with appendicitis in the midst of a worsening pandemic caused by the H1N1 flu virus, which has mutated into a more deadly form. The man is awaiting a lung transplant and brought with him the mechanical ventilator that helps him breathe.

New York’s governor has declared a state of emergency and hospitals are following the state’s pandemic ventilator allocation plan — actual guidelines drafted in 2007 that are now being revisited. The plan aims to direct ventilators to those with the best chances of survival in a severe, 1918-like flu pandemic where tens of thousands develop life-threatening pneumonia.

Because the man’s end-stage lung disease caused by his cystic fibrosis is among a list of medical conditions associated with high mortality, the guidelines would bar the man from using a ventilator in a hospital, even though he is, unlike many with his illness, stable, in good condition, and not close to death. If the hospital admits him, the guidelines call for the machine that keeps him alive to be given to someone else.

Would doctors and nurses follow such rules? Should they?

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New York Times: Worst Case - Choosing Who Survives in a Flu Epidemic

FDA warns of bogus swine flu products on the Internet

If there is money to be made from people's fear or misery, there is someone who has something to sell you.The Federal Food and Drug Administration warns many bogus products are now circulating on the Internet that falsely claim to relieve symptoms or even prevent the H1N1 swine flu virus.

Scam artists with such things as air sterilizers, supplements, face masks; shampoos and fake Tamiflu, are selling these bogus products over the Internet. Tamiflu is a FDA-approved product made by Switzerland's Roche Group and is currently being rationed.

A fake Tamiflu circulating on the Internet has been tested by the FDA. The agency found it to contain powered talc and generic Tylenol.

Read the rest of the article at:
FDA warns of bogus swine flu products on the Internet

Washington Post: Scientists study pig farming for answers on swine flu

TIPTON, IOWA It may be crowded and carpeted in manure, but the long, white building beside State Route 38 is one of the most pathogen-free homes a pig could have.

The animals never know the feel of grass, mud or sunshine, and hardly the touch of man, in their six months of life. But they are also free of many of the infections that slow the growth and occasionally end the lives of their outdoor cousins.

'We're producing the most efficient animal, one that is healthy every day,' said Devon Schott, the 34-year-old farmer who owns the building. To do that, he said, 'biosecurity is of utmost importance.'

Despite the buttoned-up methods of farmers such as Schott, many experts think pig farming presents a serious and overlooked risk to public health. Proof of that assertion -- indirect but indisputable, in the opinion of virologists -- is the 2009 H1N1 pandemic influenza.

Read the article at:
Washington Post: Scientists study pig farming for answers on swine flu

Radio Netherlands Worldwide: Europe opts for widespread flu vaccination

An increasing number of European countries are opting for widespread vaccination against the Mexican flu. Even in countries such as Italy and Sweden, where vaccination of vulnerable groups began last week, all inhabitants are now being called up to receive the vaccine.

In Britain, France and Germany, the general public can be vaccinated at the local GPs from Monday. In Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain, large-scale vaccination will get under way in the first two weeks of November.

After much hesitation, the Norwegian government has also decided to extend its vaccination programme from high-risk groups to as much of the population as possible, starting in late November and early December.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide: Europe opts for widespread flu vaccination

Dayton Daily News: Hundreds turn out for H1N1 FluMist clinic

Milder temperatures, plenty of parking and vaccines kept Warren County’s H1N1 flu vaccine clinic at the Lebanon Raceway/Warren County Fairgrounds moving smoothly Saturday morning, Oct. 24.

People started to arrive at the fairgrounds after midnight, and Health Commissioner Duane Stansbury said at 6 a.m. there already was a line to enter the grandstand area for the FluMist vaccine for the H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu.

“We can’t afford to get sick,” said Lisa Cecil of Lebanon who brought one of her three sons to the clinic Saturday and has insisted they all get the vaccine. “If there are any preventative measures available, we’re going to take them.”

Gwen Motley of Carlisle came with her two daughters, ages 3 and 6, and said she was concerned about the new influenza strain.

Read the rest at:
Dayton Daily News: Hundreds turn out for H1N1 FluMist clinic Obama Declares Swine Flu Outbreak a National Emergency

WASHINGTON — President Obama has declared the swine flu outbreak a national emergency, allowing hospitals and local governments to speedily set up alternate sites for treatment and triage procedures if needed to handle any surge of patients, the White House said on Saturday.

The declaration came as thousands of people lined up in cities across the country to receive vaccinations, and as federal officials acknowledged that their ambitious vaccination program has gotten off to a slow start. Only 16 million doses of the vaccine were available now, and about 30 million were expected by the end of the month. Some states have requested 10 times the amount they have been allotted.

Flu activity — virtually all of it the swine flu — is now widespread in 46 states, a level that federal officials say equals the peak of a typical winter flu season. Millions of people in the United States have had swine flu, known as H1N1, either in the first wave in the spring or the current wave. Obama Declares Swine Flu Outbreak a National Emergency

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Tracking the progress of H1N1 swine flu

This map and the data behind it were compiled by Dr. Henry Niman, a biomedical researcher in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, using technology provided by Rhiza Labs and Google. The map is compiled using data from official sources, news reports and user-contributions and updated multiple times per day.

Rhiza's web-based mapping product, Insight, is helping Dr. Niman get official and unofficial data into the tracking system faster while giving researchers and the public many options for viewing the data in a useful and understandable way.

FluTracker - H1N1 Swine Flu and Influenza Outbreak Tracking from Rhiza Labs

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cons even oppose the flu shots

Conservative media figures oppose everything proposed by the Obama administration, even flu shots.

Listen to this Media Matters Minute on Air America Media

Baptist: H1N1 vaccine email is a hoax - WIS News 10 - Columbia, South Carolina |

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - An email is circulating throughout the Midlands saying doctors and staff at Palmetto Health Baptist are being advised not to take the H1N1 vaccine. However, the hospital says the email is a hoax.

The email obtained by WIS News 10 on Thursday reads as follows:

My sister just called, for those of you that don't know she is a RN in the ER at Baptist. They had a meeting this morning on the H1N1 vaccination, and the doctors at Baptist are advising that their staff and patients NOT get this vaccination.

They have had several reports of people getting Guillain-Barre Syndrome. They are also concerned about how fast this vaccination has been developed and the lack of testing that has been done concerning this vaccination. In fact one nurse at Baptist, has a son that took the vaccination and has developed Guillain-Barre's.

The email then digresses into a lengthy description of the symptoms and possible risks of Guillain-Barre. It's enough to scare anyone into being afraid to take the vaccine.

The only problem, a Baptist spokesperson said, is that it's not true. The email is being distributed around the country, with the name of the hospital changing depending on the area.

The spokesperson emphasized that Baptist is encouraging all their staff and patients to get the vaccine.

WIS News 10 - Columbia, South Carolina - Baptist: H1N1 vaccine email is a hoax

Discovery Channel's Mythbusters Tapped H1N1 PSA Campaign

Discovery Channel and the hosts of its popular series MYTHBUSTERS have teamed up with the United States Department of Health and Human Services to help inform the public about ways to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. The effort includes a public service announcement airing on the network, a dedicated web presence that provides resources and important information about H1N1 and educational and classroom resources for teachers and students provided by Discovery Education.

Called 'the best science show on television,' MYTHBUSTERS uses scientific experimentation to uncover the truth behind popular myths and legends. In their PSA, hosts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage utilize a high-speed camera to show the invisible aftermath of a sneeze, and offer a simple message for H1N1 virus prevention: 'One of the single most effective things you can do to stop the spread of flu, is to simply stay home if you feel sick.'

Discovery Channel's Mythbusters Tapped H1N1 PSA Campaign Poll: One-third of parents oppose H1N1 vaccines

WASHINGTON (AP) — As the first wave of swine flu vaccine crosses the country, more than a third of parents don't want their kids vaccinated, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

Some parents say they are concerned about side effects from the new vaccine — even though nothing serious has turned up in tests so far — while others say swine flu doesn't amount to any greater health threat than seasonal flu.

Jackie Shea of Newtown, Conn., the mother of a 5-year-old boy named Emmett, says the vaccine is too new and too untested.

'I will not be first in line in October to get him vaccinated,' she said in an interview last month. 'We're talking about putting an unknown into him. I can't do that.'

The AP poll found that 38% of parents said they were unlikely to give permission for their kids to be vaccinated at school.

The belief that the new vaccine could be risky is one federal health officials have been fighting from the start, and they plan an unprecedented system of monitoring for side effects. Poll: One-third of parents oppose H1N1 vaccines

Google Flu Trends expands to 16 additional countries

From the official Google Blog:

"If you're like us, you're probably thinking a lot about how this year's flu season might affect you and your community. To help you out, we at are excited to announce the expansion of Google Flu Trends to 16 additional countries, including much of Europe. We've also made the site available in 37 languages. Flu is a global threat, affecting millions worldwide each year, so we're pleased to make this tool available in more regions and languages.

Last November, we launched Google Flu Trends in the United States after finding a close relationship between how many people search for flu-related topics and how many people actually have flu symptoms. By tracking the popularity of certain Google search queries, we are able to estimate the level of flu, in near real-time. While some traditional flu surveillance systems may take days or weeks to collect and release data, Google search queries can be counted immediately. Google Flu Trends provides an additional surveillance tool that may help public health officials and the public make more informed decisions about preparing for the flu season."

Google Flu Trends expands to 16 additional countries