Friday, May 25, 2007

Bird flu experts support bird flu vaccine stockpile

Creating a global stockpile of H5N1 avian flu vaccine may be feasible, bird flu experts from around the world agreed in late April.

Meeting at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, a diverse group of experts — including health leaders from countries that have experienced human H5N1 infections, representatives from countries that are funding avian flu research and vaccine manufacturers — agreed that both scientific evidence and international political commitment support efforts to establish a stockpile of H5N1 vaccine. The meeting participants also supported developing a mechanism to ensure that developing countries have access to pandemic influenza vaccine in the event of a pandemic.

"We have taken another crucial step forward in ensuring that all countries have access to the benefits of international influenza virus sharing and pandemic vaccine production," said Margaret Chan, WHO director-general. "All countries will now be better placed to protect the public health security of their people and the world at large."

WHO is now working to set up expert groups to focus on the details of how to create, maintain, fund and use an H5N1 vaccine stockpile.

Also during the meeting, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, which represents research-based pharmaceutical companies, reported that it forecast increased manufacturing capacity for seasonal influenza vaccine in the next three to five years to meet potential growing demand.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Staying mentally healthy during a flu pandemic, infectious disease outbreak

A great deal of attention has been paid to the physical consequences of pandemic flu and the damage it could cause in terms of illness and death. But a widespread outbreak of infectious disease may also have equally damaging psychological consequences.

In the event of a pandemic, workers may become seriously ill and won't be able to go to their jobs. Children may be forced to stay home from school. If an outbreak spreads and medication or basic necessities are in short supply, panic could occur. In each case, people are almost guaranteed to feel a heightened level of mental stress, fear, frustration and other emotions.

Such mental health consequences could linger long after an outbreak passes. People who have experienced a traumatic event, such as natural disaster, disease outbreak or other health emergency, can experience feelings of fear, grief, depression or, in the long term, post traumatic stress disorder. In fact, an April study found that eight months after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, more than half of Louisiana and Mississippi residents living in emergency trailers were suffering from major depression.

To help communities mentally cope during a flu pandemic, the American Public Health Association recommends that officials:

* monitor the mental health of the public and make sure needs are being met, among other measures.

* share simple, thorough information on reactions to stress with residents so that they know what to expect and help promote hope, resilience and recovery;

* use speeches, memorial services and television specials to help manage community distress and loss; and

Officials also need to keep in mind the needs of people who may need extra help mentally coping during an outbreak, such as seniors, parents, emergency response workers or those with pre-existing mental illness.

As with any crisis, the best way to manage is through prevention. As May is Mental Health Month, now is the perfect time to stop and think ahead about what you, your family or community might need to help cope if and when the worst happens. For resources that can help you become more prepared, visit APHA’s Get Ready or National Public Health Week Web site.

Friday, May 11, 2007

To mask or not to mask? That is the question

Flash back to 2003 and the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome. News footage showed images of people carrying out their daily routines in Asian and Canadian cities wearing surgical masks. Now, as we prepare for a possible flu pandemic, the question being asked is whether such masks will help stave off infection.

There are two types of masks commonly used to ward off disease: (1) a face mask/surgical mask and (2) an N95 respirator. Most of us have seen a surgical mask on an episode of ER or Scrubs or when visiting a hospital. But N95 respirators, which fit tightly to the face, are more commonly seen on construction sites.

So should you stock up on surgical masks, N95 respirators or both? Let’s compare.

* Properly fitted N95 respirators offer the best protection because they filter out the air you breathe in very well. But surgical masks can protect a wearer from large droplets that are a result of someone coughing or sneezing nearby. And, if you are sick, wearing a face mask can help reduce the chances that you will get other people sick.

* In the event of a flu pandemic or infectious disease outbreak, there would be a shortage of both; the federal government hasn’t stockpiled enough of either to guarantee one for every American. But chances are there will be many more surgical masks to go around; N95s are 10 times more expensive than surgical masks.

* Not everyone can wear an N95 respirator. For instance, there currently is not an N95 respirator that would work for kids, and N95s would not work as well for men with beards, as the fit around their face would not be as tight.

* For the average person, surgical masks are likely going to be the best bet, but they are not the perfect solution. They can only be worn once and must be worn correctly, and they will not work as well if the wearer is touching her or his face often with hands that could be infected by the flu.

* N95s are likely more appropriate for health care workers in direct contact with flu patients. But like surgical masks, you can only wear them once. If you happen to purchase N95 respirators or have them in your personal emergency kit, make sure to have them fitted to your face before a pandemic strikes. That way, they will offer you the protection that you expect.

Regardless of the mask, you’ll still need to follow the basic rules of how to best protect yourself and those you care about in the event of a pandemic or disease outbreak, including washing your hands and keeping your distance from others.

Have other questions about masks and respirators? Use the blog's comment feature belw to ask:

Friday, May 04, 2007

Have questions about childhood vaccines?

For parents and guardians of children younger than age 2, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the list of shots your child is supposed to receive. But with some patience and a little initiative, you can be sure your child is well protected from potentially dangerous infectious diseases. These questions can help get you started:

* Should my child get vaccinated and when?
Although that decision is ultimately up to the parents, vaccinations are one of the best investments you will ever make in your child’s life. Vaccines can protect them from getting sick, paralyzed or worse. This is even true for those diseases that aren’t common in the United States anymore: There is no guarantee that a disease such as polio, which causes paralysis, won’t return. The immunization schedule has been carefully developed to give your child protection at the most ideal time. Most immunizations can be given even if a child is not feeling well.

* Is it safe for my child to get several shots in a single doctor’s visit?
Yes, even for a newborn. And many of the diseases are so serious you can’t afford to wait. Doing so also ensures that your child stays up to date on her or his immunizations, and you won’t have to go to the doctor’s office as frequently.

* Should I wait until my child is old enough to go to school to get her or his shots?
No. Many diseases can strike earlier, so you shouldn't wait. School entrance immunization requirements are intended to catch children who missed their immunizations and to protect other students from catching diseases. Some diseases, such as the flu and the mumps, are very easily spread and can lead to outbreaks.

Simply put, making sure your infant gets the recommended shots can protect her or him for a lifetime against some very serious and sometimes deadly diseases. However, it’s more than just your own child’s health at stake. Making sure your child is immunized will also keep you healthier as well as children and adults your child interacts with at the playground, at school or anywhere else.

Myths and misinformation about vaccine safety can confuse parents who are trying to make sound decisions about their children's healthcare. Click here to see the CDC’s resources on the issue.

As last week was National Infant Immunization Week, now is the perfect time to learn more about protecting children from infectious disease. Visit the event's Web site for vaccination schedules, information resources and frequently asked questions.