Friday, March 30, 2007

Get Ready for Flu blog series to focus on preparedness among vulnerable populations

Next week marks a first for the APHA Get Ready for Flu Blog: Not only will we be marking this year's celebration of National Public Health Week, which will be held April 2-8, we will also be posting special daily blog entries tied to the week’s activities.

National Public Health Week 2007, organized by the American Public Health Association, is aimed at helping communities become more prepared, especially those who are most at risk. Because being more prepared can help you no matter the emergency -- be it a hurricane, flood or pandemic influenza -- we knew this would be a great fit for our Get Ready for Flu blog readers.

Each day of National Public Health Week will have a special theme, and so will our special week of blog entries. Monday will focus on the needs of mothers with children, Tuesday will look at local food banks, Wednesday will highlight hourly-wage workers and employers, Thursday will examine schools and Friday will address the needs of people with chronic health care conditions.

If you are in Washington, D.C., on April 2, you can come help APHA launch National Public Health Week at the National Press Club. The kick-off will feature a panel discussion with nationally recognized moderator and former NBC correspondent Bob Hager. Panel participants will include the Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral John O. Agwunobi, MD, MBA, MPH., Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) along with additional representatives from the CDC and the American Red Cross. The audience will also hear from leaders of areas affected by recent public health emergencies. Everyone is invited to the kick-off, but RSVPs to are appreciated. Results of a national poll, which was commissioned by APHA and suggests that almost 90% of the general public say that they have not taken enough steps to prepare for a public health crisis and know they could do more, will be released at the event.

Kaiser Family Foundation will also be web casting the kick-off, so if you can't be here in D.C., you can catch it online afterward. If you want to be a part of a National Public Health Week event in your community, check our online event calendar for local activities.

Stay tuned for next week’s special blog series!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Report: Pandemic flu outbreak could spark major U.S. recession

A severe influenza pandemic could plunge the United States into a major recession the likes of which the nation hasn't seen since World War II, according to a March 22 report.

Released by the Trust for America’s Health, the report found that a flu pandemic could cause the U.S. gross domestic product, or economic output, to drop by more than 5.5 percent, triggering an economic loss of $683 billion.

“The United States is not prepared to face an economic shock of this magnitude,” said Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of the Trust for America’s Health. “While important government preparedness efforts focusing mainly on medical and public health strategies are under way, efforts to prepare for the possible economic ramifications have been seriously inadequate.”

States with high levels of tourism and entertainment –- such as Nevada and Hawaii –- would be the hardest hit. Nevada’s economy could face the largest GDP fall, at 8.08 percent, followed by Hawaii, which could experience a 6.6 percent drop. Six states –- Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska, Wyoming, Nebraska and Louisiana -– could suffer economic losses of more than 6 percent.

The report, “Pandemic Flu and the Potential for U.S. Economic Recession,” based its findings on the impact of a pandemic on 20 industries as well as trade and worker productivity. The report's estimates are modeled after the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic, which killed an estimated 20 million people worldwide. If a flu pandemic of that magnitude hit the world today, it could result in 90 million cases of illness and 2.2 million deaths in the United States alone, the Trust for America’s Health predicts.

APHA is offering free resources to help you, your family and your community prepare for pandemic flu. See our Get Ready Web site for free fact sheets and other materials. The 2007 National Public Health Week Web site also offers a wealth of free general preparedness information.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Free tipsheet on preparedness online now

The list of things we need to be prepared for seems to grow longer (and scarier) every day: Pandemic flu. Hurricanes. Terrorism. Earthquakes. So which should you get ready for first?

The best way to prepare for disasters is to take a general, "all-hazards" approach, according to a new tipsheet from the American Public Health Association, which outlines basic things people can do to get ready for any type of disaster.

The free tipsheet, published in the March issue of The Nation's Health the American Public Health Association's monthly newspaper, gives quick, easy advice on how to be prepared, outlining the top three steps people can take to protect themselves and their families.

The tipsheet is presented in an entertaining, easy-to-understand format, making it perfect for employers to share with their staff or for health workers to pass out at health fairs, according to Michele Late, executive editor of The Nation's Health.

"Given that this year's National Public Health Week focuses on preparedness, this is a perfect resource that can be used during community outreach," Late said. "We encourage people to make copies of the tipsheet and post them where others can see them, such as in their office lunch room, community center or student lounge."

The free tipsheet is the latest in a series of free public health materials published by The Nation's Health as part of its Healthy You series. Past Healthy You tipsheets have focused on issues such as portion sizes and allergy triggers.

The Healthy You preparedness tipsheet is available online now. More resources and materials on National Public Health Week, which will be celebrated April 2-8, are also available via the APHA Web site.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Progress moving forward on pandemic flu vaccines, global experts report

Scientists around the globe are making progress in their efforts to create vaccines against pandemic influenza, the World Health Organization reported last month.

Meeting in Geneva in mid-February, experts reported "encouraging progress" on such vaccines, noting that 16 manufacturers from 10 countries are developing prototype pandemic influenza vaccines against H5N1, the avian influenza virus that is has caused 168 deaths worlwide, according to the WHO. Five manufacturers are also working on vaccines against three other types of avian influenza viruses -- H9N2, H5N2 and H5N3.

About 40 clinical trials involving the vaccines -- mostly focusing on healthy adults -- have been completed or are ongoing, WHO said.

In the United States in late February, a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recommended that the agency approve the nation's first human vaccine against avian flu, despite the fact that the vaccine is not very effective. A two-shot series of the vaccine, by Sanofi Pasteur, only protected 45 percent of adults, according to news reports. As of mid-March, FDA had not yet approved the vaccine.

In spite of the encouraging progress on vaccine development, WHO cautioned that the world still lacks the manufacturing capacity to meet potential global pandemic influenza vaccine demand. The organization is working through its Global Pandemic Influenza Action Plan to enable developing countries to create their own influenza vaccine production facilities.

Friday, March 09, 2007

National Public Health Week to highlight preparedness, vulnerable populations

No matter what type of disaster strikes, be it hurricanes, floods or pandemic flu, people who are already vulnerable are going to be most affected. To help communities across the nation take the first step to preparedness, especially those who are most at risk, this year's celebration of National Public Health Week will draw attention to the issue.

Organized annually by the American Public Health Association, National Public Health Week highlights public health issues through community events and outreach. This year's observance focuses on preparedness and public health for good reason: Despite growing threats and numerous awareness campaigns, Americans remain largely unprepared for public health emergencies. In fact, a September 2006 poll by the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University found that only 31 percent of Americans had basic emergency plans in place and 66 percent felt personally unprepared.

So what can we do to help? Each day of National Public Health Week, to be held April 2-8, 2007, will highlight the needs of one vulnerable population and feature activities designed to help them become prepared. Free materials are now available from APHA focusing on the needs of mothers with children; local food banks; hourly-wage workers and employers; schools serving children in kindergarten through 12th grade; and people with chronic health care needs.

We are asking you, our readers, to help us reach vulnerable people in your communities. Visit the National Public Health Week Web site now to find out how to host events, engage residents or reach out to community partners. While you are there, sign up to be a National Public Health Week partner or look for browse for activities in the online calendar of events. We'll be grateful, and so will people in your community.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Genetic data on flu expected to aid research

Genetic information on more than 2,000 human and avian influenza viruses are now available to researchers via a public database, the Influenza Genome Sequencing Project announced in February.

The information is expected to help scientists understand how flu viruses evolve and spread and to help them develop new vaccines.
"Scientists around the world can use the sequence data to compare different strains of the virus, identify the genetic factors that determine their virulence and look for new therapeutic, vaccine and diagnostic targets," said Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which funds the Influenza Genome Sequencing Project.

Seasonal influenza is a major public health concern in the United States, accounting for about 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year. An even greater concern is the potential for an influenza pandemic caused by the emergence of a new, highly lethal virus strain that is easily transmitted from person to person. Influenza pandemics have occurred three times in the last century, the most lethal of which occurred in 1918, causing an estimated 40 million to 50 million deaths around the globe.

"A few years ago, only limited genetic information on influenza viruses existed in the public domain, and much of the sequence data was incomplete," says Maria Y. Giovanni, PhD, who oversees NIAID's Microbial Sequencing Centers. "The Influenza Genome Sequencing Project has filled that gap by vastly increasing the amount of influenza sequence data and rapidly making it available to the entire scientific community."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Working together to plan for an influenza pandemic

Today's blog post is a guest entry by Julie Gerberding, MD, MPH, director of the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A global pandemic caused by influenza is not a matter of if, but when, such a pandemic will occur. Vaccination will be the best way to protect people, but will not be an option until several months after a pandemic virus appears.

Until then, other steps will need to be taken to protect people, slow down spread, and help keep our society functioning. These include personal measures (like keeping your hands clean, staying home when you're sick, and covering your nose and mouth if you sneeze or cough) to avoid getting and spreading the virus, developing household emergency plans and supply kits, accessing medical treatments for infection and sometimes prevention, and community measures to protect the public.

Of these, community measures have received recent attention because new interim recommendations have been developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with many other federal agencies, partners, technical experts and other stakeholders. The recommended steps can be found online within the Interim Pre-Pandemic Planning Guidance: Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation in the United States.

One new idea that we introduced in this planning advice is that since not all pandemics are equally severe, a severity index that categorizes pandemics, much like we categorize hurricanes, might be useful. For instance, a "low speed" pandemic that does not move very fast from person to person or does not have a very high fatality rate would likely be a fairly mild pandemic - a "Category 1."

On the other hand, we know in 1918, we had a pandemic that not only moved with extraordinary speed from person to person and around the world, but also had an unusually high mortality rate. We would categorize that as "Category 5" and implement many interventions in the community to help slow down spread and hopefully save lives. These control measures could include keeping children out of school and away from each other, canceling social events, and encouraging only essential personnel to come to work.

The interim guidance is based on lessons learned from previous pandemics. It's simply a starting point and as communities exercise for a pandemic and we learn more, we’ll be updating this planning tool and sharing those updates with you. Please provide us your input about the guidance by emailing Effective planning requires a network of all of us -- in homes, schools, churches, businesses, governments and health organizations -- working together.