Friday, March 28, 2008

Pandemic flu conference calls for papers

Are you interested in issues that relate to vaccines, antiviral drugs and pandemic flu? Then here is an opportunity for you: Seton Hall Law School's Center for Health and Pharmaceutical Law and the Seton Hall Law Review will be hosting a symposium Oct. 23-24 focusing on these very issues.

Abstracts are now being sought from people who want to serve as a panelist or have a chance to be published in a special issue of the Seton Hall Law Review. Interested individuals should submit a CV and a 200-word abstract by April 15. For full details on the symposium, Preparing for a Pharmaceutical Response to Pandemic Influenza, visit the Seton Hall Law Review symposium Web site.

Ducks contributing to bird flu's spread

Chickens aren't the only indicators of where bird flu may occur, new research shows.

Scientists think the combination of rice farming and large populations of ducks are the best ways to predict where bird flu might pop up next. This new evidence, highlighted in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, can guide public health experts as they plan on new and effective ways to prevent future outbreaks of the flu.

Researchers studied three outbreaks between the beginning of 2004 and the end of 2005, and looked at duck, human and chicken populations in certain areas of Southeast Asia as well as elevation and the amount of rice crops. Tracking both the duck populations for the H5N1 avian flu virus and rice paddies by satellite turned out to be the best way to determine where outbreaks might occur next. The outbreaks were found in areas where rice is farmed two or three times each year. In Thailand and Vietnam, chickens were not even close to being predictors of where the H5N1 virus was present, because it usually kills them before they can even spread it, the research noted.

With hope, there will be more research about the link between ducks and bird flu. For now, researchers are going to begin to design maps in other Southeast Asian countries to identify areas where flu outbreaks are the most likely to occur.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Kentucky program helps vulnerable populations prepare

As a reader of this blog, you're already a few steps ahead of the game when it comes to preparing for pandemic flu. You have access to a computer. You can read English. And you have at least the basic skills to find information online about preparedness.

Many aren't as lucky. Those who are more vulnerable to pandemic flu –- who don’t have the resources or abilities to prepare –- are often harder to reach, especially in the event of a disaster, and may suffer as a result.

In Kentucky, officials have come up with a great idea to address the needs of vulnerable populations, such as disabled, elderly or low-income residents. The state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services has launched the Kentucky Outreach and Information Network, which targets people who are hard to reach and educates them about preparedness.

Made up of about 400 members -- many of whom are volunteers -- the Kentucky network organizes annual workshops to educate community leaders about disaster preparedness. Leaders learn how to reach out and help those who are most in need but are the least likely to have access to information on how to prepare.

Network participants include religious leaders, social workers, the media, translators, health care workers and service providers, according to a report on the program in CIDRAP News, a news service from the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. The key to the Kentucky program is educating community leaders who can then act as trusted resources to share information with those they serve.

"When disasters occur, one of our top priorities is getting accurate and timely information to the public," said William D. Hacker, MD, Kentucky's commissioner for public health and acting undersecretary for health, in a 2006 news release. "Unfortunately, traditional methods of communicating health and emergency information often fall short in reaching all members of a community."

With their program, Kentucky officials have created a great model for other states and communities to follow. And we're not the only ones saying so: In 2007, peer reviewers from the University of Minnesota center named the Kentucky program a "promising practice" for preparing for pandemic flu. Which means that this program is a lesson we can all learn from.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Be an advocate for disease prevention

Not enough Americans have access to lifesaving vaccines. Thirty-three percent of kids younger than age 3 don't receive all of their childhood shots. In addition, 75 percent of all kids and 83 percent of adults didn't get their flu shots last year.

You can support legislation to improve vaccination rates among children, adults and seniors by sending a letter of support to your elected officials. You can also support legislation to ensure our country has an adequate supply of vaccine for seasonal flu by by sending this letter.

Sending a letter to your senators and representative is easy and only takes a minute. Find these and other action alerts online through APHA's Legislative Action Center. Help make important public health legislation a priority today!

Pregnancy and pandemics: One more reason to plan ahead

You're pregnant. Your feet hurt, none of your clothes fit. You've made 11 trips to the bathroom already and it's not even noon. The last thing you are thinking about is pandemic flu, right?

Unfortunately, the possibility of a flu pandemic or infectious disease outbreak doesn't disappear when a baby is on the way. As a matter of fact, it's more of a concern for women when they are pregnant.

Here's why: Pregnant women are more likely to catch the flu and become very sick, which can cause pregnancy problems. Pregnant women go to the doctor's office a lot for regular check ups (can't they get some new magazines in the waiting room, already?) which means they won't be able to stay home and avoid people who may have the flu. Some moms-to-be may be scared about taking medicine to treat the flu because they are worried about the effect it might have on their upcoming new arrival.

While there is plenty of advice out there for pregnant women and seasonal flu, there is not enough advice on pandemic planning for pregnant women, and they need answers.

That's where our health officials come in. A recent journal article says that health officials can do more to make sure women are educated about pandemic flu and have the right advice. The article, written by researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls for more planning for the needs of pregnant women during a pandemic as well as more research and better communication on the issue.

Our advice? If you are a doctor or health worker who works with pregnant women, start thinking of how pandemic flu might affect them. If you are a pregnant woman, ask your health provider for guidance. If she or he doesn't have the answers, this fact sheet on pandemic flu and pregnancy from the Indiana State Department of Health is a start.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Cold or flu? Learn which is bugging you

Your throat is scratchy. Your nose is stuffy. You're pretty sure you're coming down with the flu. Or is it just another nasty cold? Getting sick is never pleasant, but to speed your recovery it's important to know how to take care of yourself, and that begins with knowing how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu.

A recent edition of Healthy You, the monthly health tipsheet from The Nation's Health newspaper, can help you tell a cold from the flu and offers tips for preventing and treating infections.

Among the facts and tips:
* Colds are usually much milder than the flu and develop slowly. The flu comes on fast and has stronger symptoms.
* A yearly flu vaccination is the single best way to lower your chances of getting seasonal flu.
* Whether it's a cold or the flu, get as much rest as you can, and make yourself more comfortable by drinking lots of fluids.

The free tipsheet can be downloaded now from the Healthy You Web page. Share it with your family, or post it in your workplace!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

All kids ages 6 months and up should get their flu shots, panel recommends

All kids ages 6 months and up, from teething toddlers to texting-happy teens, should receive an annual flu shot, according to a recommendation from a federal advisory panel.

The recommendation, if accepted by U.S. health officials, would mean that a lot more U.S. kids would receive their flu shots each year. Current guidelines only recommend annual flu vaccinations for children ages 6 months to 5 years, so the new recommendation — covering 6 months to 18 years — would apply to an additional 30 million kids.

According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, the panel that made the recommendation last week, making sure more kids get a flu shot would mean fewer missed days of school and work and less need for antibiotics. Officials also hope that the increased coverage would have an "trickle-down effect" and help decrease the number of adult flu cases that occur every year.

The panel that made the recommendation — the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices — are experts on the issue, and advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on national vaccination policies, such as what kinds of vaccines are needed and who should get them.

CDC is expected to adopt the new recommendation and begin promoting it sometime before the 2009-2010 flu season. That's just enough time for vaccine manufacturers to kick up production and for parents, kids and health care providers to get used to the idea.