May 8, 2009 | 11
School closures, canceled proms, and emergency rooms flooded with people panicking over run-of-the-mill coughs and sore throats. Have people gone hog wild over the so-called "swine flu," and is the media to blame for fanning the flames of fear?
The media hype, in particular, has drawn heavy criticism from the Los Angeles Times's James Rainey, who recently highlighted headlines like "Bracing for the Worst" (CNN) and other examples of fear mongering. Others, such as the reporters and editors quoted in this piece by Editor & Publisher, say it has been appropriate and measured.
May 4, 2009 | 7
Last Friday, we reported on Egypt's recent attempt to curb transmission of the human H1N1 epidemic by butchering all 300,000 of its pigs. Experts we interviewed said there was no sound rationale for such a move, because pigs had never been infected with the new virus, which has sickened at least 1085 people in 21 countries – until now.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recently announced that a herd of pigs in Alberta might have caught the new virus from a Canadian who had recently spent time in Mexico, ground zero for the current epidemic. Fortunately, both man and pigs have recovered or are in the process getting better, but the incident raises a new question: do pigs now pose a threat to humans?
May 1, 2009 | 7
As swine flu fears sweep the world, governments everywhere are taking steps to prepare for a global pandemic, such as ramping up disease surveillance, reinforcing medicine stockpiles, and distributing infection control information to citizens. Egypt, however, with no confirmed cases of swine flu within its borders, added another step: Killing all 300,000 of its pigs.
"It has been decided to immediately start slaughtering all the pigs in Egypt using the full capacity of the country's slaughterhouses," Health Minister Hatem el-Gabaly said earlier this week, according to The Independent. The idea is to prevent the animals from passing the disease to humans.
Apr 27, 2009
The World Health Organization (WHO) has raised the influenza pandemic alert level to phase 4, just two steps shy of a global pandemic alert, according to Keiji Fukuda, the WHO's assistant director-general for health security and environment. And while the WHO does not recommend countries close borders or restrict travel, they are moving forward with plans to produce a swine flu vaccine as soon as possible, he told reporters in a teleconference this evening.
According to the WHO Web site, a phase 4 alert describes a viral outbreak in which human-to-human transmission is efficient and sustained enough to cause community-level outbreaks. Level 3 describes a situation in which human-to-human transmission is limited and disease cases are sporadic and occur in small clusters. (Phase 6 designates a global pandemic.) According to the WHO, there are at least 73 confirmed cases of human swine flu -- 40 in the U.S., 26 in Mexico (including seven deaths), six in Canada, and one in Spain. But Mexico has over 1000 suspected cases, according to Time Magazine, and 149 suspected deaths, according to Reuters.
Apr 27, 2009 | 1
Mexico, which is already swept in panic over an outbreak of swine flu, the virus suspected of killing over 100 people and sickening more than 1,000 in the country, has now become the epicenter of another disaster: an earthquake.
At 12:46 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, a magnitude 5.6 tremor struck Mexico's southern state of Guerrero, a popular tourist region that includes the cities of Acapulco, Taxco and Chilpancingo. The temblor's epicenter was 155 miles (250 kilometers) south of Mexico City, according to Julie Dutton, a spokesperson for the U.S. Geological Survey. So far there are no reports of deaths from the quake, Alfredo González of Mexico City's Protección Civil told Reuters América Latina.
Apr 8, 2009 | 1
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has green-lighted a test that can quickly determine whether a person is infected with deadly avian flu.
The FDA yesterday approved the AVantage A/H5N1 Flu Test, made by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Arbor Vita Corp. The nose or throat swab can detect the infection in less than 40 minutes, the agency said; previous diagnostic tests took up to four hours.
"This test is an important tool to help quickly identify emerging influenza A/H5N1 infections and reduce exposure to large populations," Daniel Schultz, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a statement. "The clearance of this test represents a major step toward protecting the public from the threat of pandemic flu."
Mar 2, 2009 | 2
We've known since January that most of the flu circulating this season is resistant to Tamiflu, an antiviral drug typically used against the infection. What remained a mystery was whether the resistant flu strain made people sicker than forms that respond to the treatment — and why the resistant strain surged this year, a worry for public health officials who stockpiled Tamiflu in the event of a flu pandemic stoked by avian influenza.
A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association indicates that Tamiflu-resistant flu does not make people any more or less sick. But researchers say they're still in dark as to why Tamiflu-resistant infections are on the rise. A whopping 98 percent of this year's circulating H1N1 flu strains are immune to Tamiflu, compared with only 12 percent during the 2007-2008 flu season.
Feb 23, 2009 | 19
Is sunshine more than just a home remedy for a cold? New research suggests it may be: In a study that will be published tomorrow, people with low levels of vitamin D — also known as the "sunshine vitamin" — were more likely to catch cold and flu than folks with adequate amounts. The effect of the vitamin was strongest in people with asthma and other lung diseases who are predisposed to respiratory infections.
People with the worst vitamin D deficiency were 36 percent more likely to suffer respiratory infections than those with sufficient levels, according to the research in this week's Archives of Internal Medicine. Among asthmatics, those who were vitamin D deficient were five times more likely to get sick than their counterparts with healthy levels. And the risk of respiratory infection was twice as high among vitamin D-deficient patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than in lung patients with normal levels of the vitamin.
Feb 13, 2009 | 7
Could the common cold become a thing of the past? Scientists have unraveled the genetic code for all 99 strains of the rhinovirus, but there may be a disconnect between excitement over the feat in the lab versus at pharmaceutical companies that would ordinarily develop a cure or vaccine against infection.
The discovery, published this week in Science, means that, in theory, drug or vaccine developers have a map of possible targets against the cold virus. "There is real promise now, based on full understanding of this virus, that we have never had before," study co-author Stephen Liggett, a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the Baltimore Sun. "Let's get, perhaps, a single pill [that] will kill the virus that day, that moment, and within six hours you are cured. It is possible."
Jan 26, 2009 | 14
You can cut your risk of contracting the flu or other respiratory viruses by as much as 80 percent by wearing a mask over your nose and mouth, according to a new study.
"This is the first clinical trial to show a positive effect of masks on preventing the transmission of respiratory viruses," says Raina MacIntyre, an epidemiologist and head of the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and lead author of the study published today in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .
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