Posts about flu

Cool Animation of a Virus Invading a Person’s Body

Flu Attack! How A Virus Invades Your Body

First, some new viruses get caught in mucus and other fluids inside your body and are destroyed. Other viruses get expelled in coughs and sneezes. Second, lots of those new viruses are lemons. They don’t work that well. Some don’t have the right “keys” to invade healthy cells so they can’t spread the infection. And third, as the animation shows, your immune system is busy attacking the viruses whenever and wherever possible.

That is why most of the time, after a struggle (when you get a fever and need to lie down), your immune system rebounds, and, in time, so do you.

A health body with a strong immune system is able to fight off viruses, and other health issues more easily. Also when you body has run across a specific virus before it is ready to fight it. It has cataloged that virus and is on the look out for it and is prepared to produce specialized cells to attack it. The flu vaccinations you get are priming your body to be ready to attack if that virus is found. Those antibodies take about 2 weeks to build up in sufficient numbers to offer protection against the flu. Viruses are constantly mutating which helps them evade your detectors. This stuff is so amazing. And your body is just doing this stuff every day while you watch youtube or play basketball or…

Related: Antigen Shift in Influenza VirusesLearning How Viruses Evade the Immune SystemHow to Stay Healthy: Avoiding the Flu

How to Stay Healthy: Avoiding the Flu

It is no secret that washing your hands is a great strategy to stay healthy. Still few people take care to wash their hands thoroughly frequently during each day. The H1N1 Flu is just the latest sickness that washing your hands protects you from.

The CDC recommends you take these everyday steps to protect your health to protect yourself from the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. Though the scientific evidence is not as extensive as that on hand washing and alcohol-based sanitizers, other hand sanitizers that do not contain alcohol may be useful for killing flu germs on hands.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • And to keep others healthy you should

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. [others also suggest coughing into you elbow instead of your hands, again to reduce the spread of germs.]
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.

The spread of this 2009 H1N1 flu is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

The incidence of H1N1flu is likely to be high this flu season based on results in the Southern Hemishpere. Symptoms are those of the flu: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue; can include diarrhea and vomiting.

The CDC includes weekly flu statistics on their web site. Since mid-April to August 30, 2009, a total of 9,079 hospitalizations and 593 deaths associated with 2009 influenza A (H1N1) viruses have been reported to CDC an increase from 8,843 hospitalizations and 556 deaths from the prior week.

Related: New and Old Ways to Make Flu VaccinesGoogle Flu Leading Indicatorposts on the fluStudy Shows Why the Flu Likes WinterReducing the Impact of a Flu Pandemic
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Influenza Pandemic Alert Raised to Level 5 (of 6)

WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan, announced today that she has “decided to raise the current level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5.” And she further comments:

Let me remind you. New diseases are, by definition, poorly understood. Influenza viruses are notorious for their rapid mutation and unpredictable behaviour. WHO and health authorities in affected countries will not have all the answers immediately, but we will get them.

WHO will be tracking the pandemic at the epidemiological, clinical, and virological levels. All countries should immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans. Countries should remain on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia.

At this stage, effective and essential measures include heightened surveillance, early detection and treatment of cases, and infection control in all health facilities.

I have reached out to companies manufacturing antiviral drugs to assess capacity and all options for ramping up production. I have also reached out to influenza vaccine manufacturers that can contribute to the production of a pandemic vaccine.

The biggest question, right now, is this: how severe will the pandemic be, especially now at the start?

It is possible that the full clinical spectrum of this disease goes from mild illness to severe disease. We need to continue to monitor the evolution of the situation to get the specific information and data we need to answer this question.

From past experience, we also know that influenza may cause mild disease in affluent countries, but more severe disease, with higher mortality, in developing countries.

No matter what the situation is, the international community should treat this as a window of opportunity to ramp up preparedness and response.

Above all, this is an opportunity for global solidarity as we look for responses and solutions that benefit all countries, all of humanity. After all, it really is all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic.

As I have said, we do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them.
—- end of her remarks —-
The latest WHO Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response release puts the total number of confirmed cases at 148, in 9 countries, with 8 deaths. Mexico has many more suspected cases but just 26 confirmed cases. The CDC Swine Influenza site, puts the total number of confirmed cases in the USA at 91, in 10 states, with 1 death.

Related: Swine Flu: a Quick OverviewSwine Flu One Step Closer to Pandemicposts on influenzaWhy the Flu Likes WinterReducing the Impact of a Flu Pandemic

Swine Flu: a Quick Overview

World Health Organization on Swine influenza

After reviewing available data on the current situation, Committee members identified a number of gaps in knowledge about the clinical features, epidemiology, and virology of reported cases and the appropriate responses. The Committee advised that answers to several specific questions were needed to facilitate its work.

The Committee nevertheless agreed that the current situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

Based on this advice, the Director-General has determined that the current events constitute a public health emergency of international concern, under the Regulations.

Swine flu: a quick overview–and new New York and Kansas cases by Tara Smith

while the cases in the US have been mild and no deaths have occurred that we’re aware of, it seems in Mexico that young people are dying from this–a group that is typically not hard-hit by seasonal influenza viruses. Readers familiar with influenza and know the history of the 1918 influenza pandemic will recall that the “young and healthy” were disproportionally struck by that virus as well–so this knowledge is currently disconcerting and worrisome, but there are so many gaps in our information as far as what’s really going on in Mexico that it’s difficult to make heads or tails out of this data right now.

Third, is this really a new virus? So few influenza isolates are actually analyzed each year (in proportion to the number of people infected) that we aren’t sure yet whether this is something brand-new, or something that has been circulating at a low level for awhile, but just hadn’t been picked up. After all, H1N1 is a common serotype, so additional molecular testing is needed to determine that it’s “swine flu” versus “human” H1N1.

this is a fast-developing story, and it will take much more investigation and field work to determine the true extent of the virus’s spread in the population; to figure out… how efficiently it’s transmitted…

This is very early in the scientific inquiry process looking into what exactly is going on. It is too early to tell how serious a threat this is. The reaction of WHO, CDC though shows they are taking the threat seriously. By far the biggest danger in such situations, is reacting too slowly to serious and contagious threats. If you wait to react until proof exists that the situation is very serious the situation can be almost impossible to control. So you need to react quickly to shut down the spread of the threat, hopefully before it has spread too far.

Related: CDC site on Human Swine Influenza InvestigationInterview with Dr. Tara SmithReducing the Impact of a Flu PandemicH5N1 Influenza Evolution and Spread
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Monoclonal Antibodies Found That Stop All Flu Types

Universal Flu Drug Stops All Flu Types

A new kind of drug cocktail kills all types of flu bugs and could protect against pandemic or seasonal flu. “I certainly believe that a therapy for all kinds of influenza may be within our grasp,” study researcher Robert Liddington, DPhil, director of infectious diseases at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said at a news conference announcing the finding.

The treatment is based on new monoclonal antibodies that attack flu viruses in a shared Achilles heel. Of the many different subtypes of flu, there are only two basic patterns for this vulnerable, essential part of the flu virus.

And despite heroic efforts, researchers could not breed a flu strain resistant to the treatment — suggesting that there’s only a very small chance that mutated viruses could render the treatment obsolete. The breakthrough finding is a joint effort from labs at the Burnham Institute; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; and the CDC in Atlanta.

Like many breakthroughs, the finding was partly accidental. The researchers were, at first, trying only to create a treatment to stop the H5N1 bird flu virus, the most likely candidate for igniting the next worldwide flu pandemic.

While monoclonal antibodies against flu are new, a wide range of drugs are based on this technology. That means the new, fully human anti-flu antibodies could become new human drugs relatively quickly…

“We hope these antibodies are in clinical trials during the 2011-2012 flu season — maybe earlier,” Marasco said. “This really is an important advance in the field of antiviral therapy. The possibility of having a universal therapy for flu is made more real and possible because of these discoveries.”

Related: Study Finds No Measurable Benefit to Flu ShotsH5N1 Influenza Evolution and SpreadStudy challenges notion of ‘pandemic’ flu

Google Flu Leading Indicator

Google Flu Trends

During the 2007-2008 flu season, an early version of Google Flu Trends was used to share results each week with the Epidemiology and Prevention Branch of the Influenza Division at CDC. Across each of the nine surveillance regions of the United States, we were able to accurately estimate current flu levels one to two weeks faster than published CDC reports.

So why bother with estimates from aggregated search queries? It turns out that traditional flu surveillance systems take 1-2 weeks to collect and release surveillance data, but Google search queries can be automatically counted very quickly. By making our flu estimates available each day, Google Flu Trends may provide an early-warning system for outbreaks of influenza.

For epidemiologists, this is an exciting development, because early detection of a disease outbreak can reduce the number of people affected. If a new strain of influenza virus emerges under certain conditions, a pandemic could emerge and cause millions of deaths (as happened, for example, in 1918). Our up-to-date influenza estimates may enable public health officials and health professionals to better respond to seasonal epidemics and — though we hope never to find out — pandemics.

This is an interesting example of finding new ways to quickly access what is happening in the world. Google must be doing significant amounts of similar things to see how usage patterns can server as a leading indicator.

Related: Study Shows Why the Flu Likes WinterTracking flu trendsReducing the Impact of a Flu PandemicData Deluge Aids Scientists

Study Finds No Measurable Benefit to Flu Shots

Do Flu Shots For The Elderly Save Lives? Just Washing Hands Works Better, Says Study

The widely-held perception that the influenza vaccination reduces overall mortality risk in the elderly does not withstand careful scrutiny, according to researchers in Alberta. The vaccine does confer protection against specific strains of influenza, but its overall benefit appears to have been exaggerated by a number of observational studies that found a very large reduction in all-cause mortality among elderly patients who had been vaccinated.

The study included more than 700 matched elderly subjects, half of whom had taken the vaccine and half of whom had not. After controlling for a wealth of variables that were largely not considered or simply not available in previous studies that reported the mortality benefit, the researchers concluded that any such benefit “if present at all, was very small and statistically non-significant and may simply be a healthy-user artifact that they were unable to identify.”

“Over the last two decades in the United Sates, even while vaccination rates among the elderly have increased from 15 to 65 percent, there has been no commensurate decrease in hospital admissions or all-cause mortality

Related: New and Old Ways to Make Flu VaccinesStudy Shows Why the Flu Likes WinterOver-reliance on Prescription Drugs to Aid Children’s Sleep?

Study challenges notion of ‘pandemic’ flu

Study challenges notion of ‘pandemic’ flu

Peter Doshi, a graduate student in the History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society Program at MIT, based his study on an analysis of more than a century of influenza mortality data. He found that the peak monthly death rates in the 1957-1958 and 1968-1969 pandemic seasons were no higher than–and were sometimes exceeded by–those for severe nonpandemic seasons.

Doshi says the pandemic-equals-extreme-mortality concept appears to be a generalization of a single data point: the 1918 season, a period in which “doctors lacked intensive care units, respirators, antiviral agents and antibiotics.” He argues that “had no other aspect of modern medicine but antibiotics been available in 1918, there seems good reason to believe that the severity of this pandemic would have been far reduced.”

As may be expected given improvements in living conditions, nutrition and other public health measures, influenza death rates substantially declined across the 20th century. Doshi calculates an 18-fold decrease in influenza deaths between the 1940s and 1990s, a trend that began far before the introduction of widespread vaccination.

Related: Why the Flu Likes WinterReducing the Impact of a Flu PandemicDrug-resistant Flu Virus – Avian Flu

Avian Flu

Bird Flu Virus Microscope Photo

Photo of the Bird Flu virus, courtesy of

Avian Flu (site broke link so I removed it), World Health Organization Meeting to Discuss Avian Flu Pandemic as Bird Flu Continues to Spread Through Europe

World Health Organization officials are meeting in Geneva to consider the possibility of a global human bird flu pandemic as the deadly H5N1 strain continues to spread rapidly in birds.

Top influenza official Margaret Chan said the outbreak in poultry is historically unprecedented. She said the deadly virus presents a greater challenge to the world than any other emerging infectious disease.

The meeting was called to plan a response in case the bird flu virus mutates into a widespread human flu virus.

Bird Flu Resistant to Main Drug

Bird Flu ‘Resistant to Main Drug’ (site removed content so link to them removed)

While the H5N1 virus is now mostly passed directly from bird to human, health experts have warned that it is just a matter of time before it mutates into a form that is easily transmissible between people. When that happens, it may result in as many as 150 million human deaths.

Obviously the 1918 flu pandemic should stand as a recent example of the danger posed by flu epidemics. I don’t have any ability to judge how likely these threats of “bird flu” are but it seems like we could very easily be failing to invest sufficient resources in fighting such a possibility.

Have bird flu warnings affected you?, BBC

It also is a reminder that we should be careful not to overuse anti-biotics.