Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This week in pandemic flu, emerging infectious disease: Avian flu cases causing concern in Asia

Indonesia, India and other countries in the Southeast Asia region continue to have problems with reoccurring cases of avian flu, drawing concern from global health officials, according to headlines reported by APHA's Get Ready news Twitter.

Among the bird flu headlines reported recently by the Get Ready news Twitter are:
*Indonesia human bird flu death toll hits 100
*India steps up culling as bird flu spreads
*U.S. offers help to contain bird flu outbreak in West Bengal, India
*Bangladesh plans house-to-house bird flu search
*Bangladesh bird flu situation alarming, says science adviser
*India worst bird flu outbreak spreads
*India admits falling behind in bird flu battle

For links to these and dozens of other news stories and resources, visit the Get Ready Twitter.

New information is posted each weekday, so check back regularly for updates, or sign up for our RSS feed. Our Twitter headlines can also be read on the Get Ready for Flu blog.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Anniversary of 1918 pandemic flu offers lessons

This year marks the 90th anniversary of one of the worst disease outbreaks in human history: the 1918 flu. From 1918 to 1919, waves of a deadly flu strain killed between 30 million and 50 million people around the world, with about 675,000 deaths in the United States alone. Even villages in the Arctic Circle and islands in the South Pacific were hit by the pandemic.

The 1918 flu -- often called the "Spanish" flu because early cases of the disease were linked to Spain -- was unique. It was deadlier for young, otherwise healthy adults than for the very young or old. The virus also acted quickly: Histories tell many stories of people falling ill and dying within a matter of hours.

Even as the pandemic swept the globe, scientists and doctors did not yet fully understand its cause. They did, however, know that it spread during coughing and sneezing. As a result, U.S. cities and communities tried to stop the spread of the virus however they could. Some towns recommended or required that residents wear masks, while other places used quarantines or banned out-of-town visitors.

To make matters worse, the 1918 flu came at a bad time. Not only did the mass mobilizations of World War I quicken the spread of the flu, but the large numbers of medical staff needed abroad for the conflict caused of doctors and nurses at home during the worst stages of the pandemic.

In the summer of 1919, to everyone's relief , the Spanish flu pandemic ended. Public health officials and scientists today study the 1918 flu to better understand how the pandemic happened and to learn what can be done to prevent history from repeating itself. As we look back on this anniversary, one of the most important lessons we can take away is the need to prepare. These materials from APHA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services can help get you and your community started.

Photo caption: A street conductor in Seattle tells passengers they can't board without a mask during the flu pandemic in 1918. Courtesy National Archives.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

This week in pandemic flu, emerging infectious disease: Concerns focus on more than just bird flu

While health officials around the world continue to track avian flu cases, they are also keeping their eyes trained for other infectious diseases that are emerging as a threat or are making a comeback. Among the diseases that are on the radar are dengue, MRSA, tuberculosis and cholera, according to headlines reported by APHA's Get Ready news Twitter.

Among the infectious disease headlines reported recently by the Get Ready news Twitter are:

*Vietnam to vaccinate 400,000 children against cholera
*Cambodia bracing for dengue fever outbreak
*Family docs in UK on alert for MRSA strain in nurseries, schools and gyms
*Measles epidemic in north Nigerian city
*Tropical dengue fever may threaten U.S.
*TB major health problem in Afghanistan
*Horse flu spreads in Mongolia

For links to these and dozens of other news stories and resources, visit the Get Ready Twitter.

New information is posted each weekday, so check back regularly for updates, or sign up for our RSS feed. Our Twitter headlines can also be read on the Get Ready for Flu blog.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Chik fever: Funny name, serious threat

What's in a name? In the case of Chikungunya fever, a mosquito-borne disease that is becoming a growing concern around the world, a funny-sounding name has serious implications. The word "Chikungunya" is thought to mean "to dry up or to become contorted," describing the stooped posture that many victims develop as a result of the severe joint pain and arthritis associated with the disease. Not so funny-sounding now, right?

Chik fever is a rare viral disease usually only seen in Africa and Asia. But it has now spread to parts of Europe and has been found in travelers in the United States. Similar to West Nile virus, the chikungunya virus is spread to people by bites from infected mosquitoes. Faster travel and warmer climates have allowed the disease to spread more easily, scientists believe. The virus has also changed to infect the Asian tiger mosquito, which has been found in both Europe and North America. It could be only a matter of time until infected mosquitoes make their way across the United States, and onto your arms and legs.

Infections with Chik fever can range from unpleasant -- such as fever, fatigue, nausea, muscle pain and rash -- to serious, such as severe joint pain and arthritis that can last from weeks to months. Unfortunately, there is no treatment or vaccine for Chik fever.

As climate change creates more warm areas for mosquitoes to spread to, diseases such as Chik fever will become more of a concern. So once the temperatures start to rise in your region and the bugs are again buzzing, remember to take precautions against mosquitoes. You could get more than an itch for your troubles.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

Friday, January 11, 2008

To kiss or not to kiss?

Ever wonder whether that smooch you stole from your sweetheart made you sick? Actually, you're more likely to catch a cold or the flu when you shake someone's hand. People often put their fingers in their mouths without realizing it, then spread the virus by shaking someone's hand or making a dish for supper.

According to a recent report in the American Journal of Infection Control, practicing good handwashing habits at home, at work and elsewhere is the best way to keep germs from spreading. Experts say handwashing might even be our best defense against a flu pandemic. If you're not near a sink, a squeeze of alcohol-based hand sanitizer will do the trick. You can keep a small bottle handy in a jacket pocket or purse for when you eat out or wait in line at the store.

While handwashing is important to keep germs at bay, don't overlook your humdrum household chores. Regularly clean your kitchen counters, door and tap handles, toilet seats, sinks and bathtubs, as home hygiene matters, according to the report.

"Well, I don't want to be a neat freak," you might say to all this. You've even heard talk about how being "too clean" is not great for your immune system. But when it comes to protecting the family from getting sick, the report researchers recommend a targeted approach to home hygiene: Focus on the key routes for the spread of harmful germs while leaving other organisms in the environment unharmed.

So don't forget to wash your hands, but thoroughly (or it doesn't count)!

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

Thursday, January 10, 2008

New podcast helps you get fit, prepared

Hitting the treadmill can be good for your body, your mind and your pandemic flu preparation. Thanks to a new podcast, you can burn some calories while learning about the importance of preparedness planning.

Marina Kamen, winner of the first People's Choice Award in Podcasting for Health and Fitness, recently interviewed APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), on what it means to be prepared and why preparedness is important. Set to a workout tempo, the podcast will motivate you to exercise and plan for pan flu.

So lace up your running shoes and listen to or download the podcast.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

New research findings on infectious disease

From flu pandemic protection to vaccine development, new research is shedding light on infectious diseases and offering insights into ways to combat their spread. Recent studies have found that surgical masks won't fight pandemic flu and that simple health care strategies can help prevent infections from extensively drug resistant tuberculosis, according to headlines reported by APHA's Get Ready News Twitter.

Among the recent infectious disease research highlights reported by the Get Ready News Twitter are:

* Scientists discover new key to flu transmission
* Preparing pregnant women for pandemic flu
* Wild bird influenza survey, Canada
* Telephone monitoring of flu patients, United States, 2006
* Is a universal flu vaccine on its way?
*Canadian panel concludes there is no evidence surgical masks protect against pandemic flu
* Research to aid malaria eradication efforts
* Study shows new way to fight Chagas disease
* Simple strategy could prevent half of deadly tuberculosis infections
* Study shows how Chikungunya virus spread so far

For links to these and dozens of other news stories and resources, visit the Get Ready News Twitter.

New information is posted each weekday, so check back regularly for updates, or sign up for the Twitter's RSS feed. Our news headlines can also be read on the Get Ready for Flu blog.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Health leaders discuss avian, pandemic flu in India

Avian flu and pandemic flu are both issues of high concern to countries around the world, but the degree to which nations are prepared varies widely, according to discussions at a recent international conference in India.

During the New Delhi International Ministerial Conference on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, held Dec. 2-4, speakers noted that some countries are prepared and have supplies if a pandemic occurs. However, many countries are already having trouble dealing with birds that have avian influenza. Other countries need help learning about influenza and how to better protect people and animals. Poverty remains an important barrier to progress on avian flu, noted Margaret Chan, MD, director-general of the World Health Organization, during her meeting remarks.

"The countries with recurring epidemics in poultry and recurring sporadic human cases are largely poor countries," Chan said. "Wealthy countries have been able to contain poultry outbreaks fairly quickly. Not a single human case has occurred in a wealthy country."

To help less wealthy countries prepare for a pandemic, nine countries pledged more than $400 million in aid during the conference.

While avian flu and pandemic flu are similar, in many ways the two are separate problems, according to conference participants. About 750 people from 11 nations attended the conference. Countries need to work to address avian influenza, which is already a problem around the world, but also prepare for pandemic influenza, which could develop at any time. Conference participants encouraged governments to continue working together, share information on viruses and stay alert.

"Avian influenza...is today a global threat and we must all work together to find a global solution," said Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister. "Each of our governments will have to act locally, but think globally in dealing with this massive problem."