Friday, October 27, 2006

Don't take flu home for the holidays

It's autumn. Time to put together the perfect Halloween costume, buy those plane tickets for Thanksgiving and start saving your pennies for the holiday shopping spree. So make room for candy corn, mashed potatoes... and oh, the flu.

Sounds like a pretty unwelcome house guest, right? Well, the flu doesn't usually make reservations. Much of the time, the nasty bug simply takes advantage of our forgetfulness and, yes, laziness. In other words, Mr. Forgets-to-Wash-His-Hands meets Ms. Influenza, and BAM!, here comes runny noses, sweaty fevers and sleepless nights.

The best was to avoid seasonal flu is by getting a flu shot, which is highly recommended. However, there's a number of other things you can do to protect yourself. Here's a few tips:

1. Call in sick: Your co-workers will thank you
Most of us have been guilty of going to work or school when we've been sick because of an upcoming important deadline or a big test. However, we are not setting the best example and, in fact, we could be causing more harm than good by giving the flu to a co-worker. Staying home when you are sick will be especially important if and when a flu pandemic or an outbreak of another infectious disease occurs, so we should all take this opportunity to practice.

How long do you need to stay at home? According to our top health officials, most healthy adults may be able to get others sick a day before they even start showing symptoms and up to five days after becoming sick. So, if you are not feeling well, be a thoughtful co-workers and stay home. Curling up in front of your TV or with a good book isn't the worst way to spend a day or two, right?

2. Rub a dub dub . . . wash your hands!
Wash your hands often, long enough and with warm water and soap. Wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song all the way through twice (about 20 seconds). If it helps, don't be afraid to sing aloud in the bathroom or kitchen! For more tips on handwashing, visit

3. Say it, don't spray it
Why is covering your cough or sneeze so important? Because people with the flu can easily pass it along to others. Also, people can catch the flu by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouths or noses. It's best to protect yourself and others, so cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

By getting a flu shot and following these tips, there's a much better chance that you will be sharing your holidays with pumpkins and eggnog instead of tissues and cold medicine.

Monday, October 23, 2006

WHO Releases Report Calling for Increased Commitment to Global Influenza Resources

The World Health Organization (WHO) called today for "immediate and sustained action and funding" to increase the world's influenza vaccine resources in its newly released Global Pandemic Influenza Action Plan to Increase Vaccine Supply. More than 120 scientific experts from national immunization programs, regulatory agencies, scientists and vaccine manufacturers developed the plan. The Action Plan identifies and prioritizes solutions for reducing potential gaps in the world's pandemic flu vaccine supply, including:

*An increase in seasonal flu vaccine use to protect individuals against seasonal flu and at the same use the increased demand to stimulate manufacturers to produce more vaccine;

*An increase in vaccine production capacity through measures such as improving vaccine production yields and building new manufacturing plants; and

*Further research and development to design more effective vaccines and to produce vaccines more efficiently and quickly.

Experts estimate that by 2008-2009, the production of pandemic flu vaccine will not exceed 2.34 billion doses a year. The production capacity currently for seasonal flu vaccine now stands at 350 million doses, far short of the manufacturing capacity needed to vaccinate the world's 6 billion people.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt called WHO's plan a "significant step forward" in the global effort to prepare for a flu pandemic. The number of avian flu cases in humans has more than doubled to over 250 cases in 10 countries, and more than half of those individuals infected have died, Leavitt said.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The flu shot: The best thing you can do to head off the flu

It's that time of year again: the start of the flu season. The annual flu season begins in October and can continue until May. Every year, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu. That means at least 15 million Americans (and as many as 60 million) get sick from the flu every year. Seasonal flu results in more than 200,000 hospitalizations and about 36,000 deaths annually.

So, what can you do to protect yourself and your family from seasonal flu? The most important thing, by far, is to get a flu shot. October and November are the best months to get a flu shot, but getting vaccinated later in the flu season still helps. The flu is still circulating in January and February, and sometimes even as late as May. The seasonal flu shot won't protect you from H5N1, the type of avian influenza that has killed birds and people in countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, but it can protect you from regular flu.

We've encountered some problems in recent years with vaccine supplies that have made it difficult for everyone who wanted a flu shot to get one. This year, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that more than 100 million doese of the flu caccine will be available, which is more then ever before. There may be a few bumps in the year ahead, but don't let this keep you from getting vaccinated. There should be enough doses of vaccine available for all of those who want one, even if it takes a few extra weeks.

CDC also recommends that certain people, such as very young children, the elderly and people living with illnesses that affect the immune system get vaccinated against the flu. For a complete list of those who are most at risk, visit

Sometimes people are afraid to get a flu shot because they're afraid it will make them sick with the flu, but that's not true. The flu shot that many of us get every year contains dead influenza virus, which experts call "inactive virus." You can't get sick from it because the virus is no longer alive. This vaccine, given with a needle, is approved for people older than 6 months of age. If you are allergic to eggs, contact your health care provider, as the flu vaccine will have to be administered differently, if at all.

Beyond the shot, there is a newer flu vaccine introduced in recent years that is given via a nasal spray. However, it is not recommended for everyone since it contains live (but weakened) flu virus. Only healthy people between 5 and 49 years of age who are not pregnant are approved to use it. The nasal spray flu vaccine is a great alternative for those of us who are afraid of needles, especially healthy, school-aged children.

Whichever type of flu vaccination you choose, it's the best thing you can do to head off the flu.

Monday, October 16, 2006

APHA Launches Get Ready Campaign to Help Americans Prepare Themselves for Flu Pandemic

APHA has officially launched its Get Ready campaign to help the public prepare for a potential influenza pandemic and outbreaks of other emerging infectious diseases. APHA's campaign speaks directly to individuals, families and communities and helps fill gaps by telling people what they need to prepare themselves.

Currently, the campaign includes the Get Ready For Flu blog, a Web site and podcasts featuring expert commentary and conversations with APHA members and other public health authorities. Fact sheets and other materials are available through the Get Ready Web site at

Future plans for the campaign include grassroots activities, toolkits, community partnerships, preparedness surveys and a calculator to help people determine what supplies they will need to prepare for pandemic flu or other emerging infectious diseases. For more information, e-mail

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

APHA Launches Flu Podcast Series

Adding to the tools to help you prepare for a flu pandemic or for infectious disease, the American Public Health Association has launched a new podcast series.

The podcasts, available online (at , will help educate the public about protecting themselves, their families and their communities against a potential pandemic and also advise people on other issues such as news on the seasonal flu or infectious diseases.

The expert commentary and conversations in these podcasts will be direct, clear and straightforward. APHA members and other public health authorities will cover topics such as "flu 101," vaccine availability, safe cooking procedures and preparing for seasonal flu. The debut podcast, which features APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, discusses the threat of pandemic flu and APHA's Get Ready campaign.

Give a listen, and send us your ideas on what topics you'd like to see covered.

Friday, October 06, 2006

How safe is my cat? Keeping Fluffy free from the flu

With all the talk about flu in birds, cat owners may be wondering: How safe is my cat? Along with hairballs and distemper, do I have to worry about my kitty getting an avian flu infection? Recent reports and studies suggest the answer is "yes," but there is no need to panic. As a pet lover, you can take steps to make sure Fluffy and Snowball stay healthy and safe.

Besides birds and people, a multitude of animals - such as pigs, ferrets, rats, rabbits - can become infected with the H5N1 avian flu virus, and that list includes felines. Internationally, both domestic kitties and big zoo cats have gotten the flu after eating H5N1-infected chickens, and sick cats can spread infection to other cats through their waste.

Raw meat from infected birds can be a risk for cats, and the World Health Organization reported this year that pet cats in Germany died from the H5N1 virus after eating infected birds. Other reports of infected cats have come from Austria, France and Bangkok. Sick cats are said to have the same symptoms as infected humans - fever, sore throat and muscle aches.

Luckily, there are no reported cases of infected cats in the United States and experts emphasize that the avian flu risk to felines in North America is very low. As a pet owner, you can take special care to protect your cat. Just follow these steps:
*Don't let your cat roam outdoors, because cats may be exposed to a virus after coming into contact with infected birds or eating fowl and other wildlife.
*Keep your cat away from birds and their droppings.
*Do not allow your cat to eat raw chicken, eggs or other poultry.

The same advice applies to dogs. While canines are not usually susceptible to avian flu, a 2005 unpublished study conducted in Thailand showed that dogs could be infected with the virus, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Given the limited information, the jury is still out on the risk for Fido. But dog owners can play it safe by following the same rules that are recommended for cats.

By using caution and watching out for your furry family members, you can ensure that both Fido and Fluffy remain happily curled up at the foot of your bed for years to come.