Cold + Dry = Flu

26 11 2012

My middle schooler loves to report on the various illnesses of her classmates. On any given day, she says that half of those children not in school are suffering from flu—self-reported, but still.

They may be too sick for school, but they do manage the brave yet desperate text now and again to share their misery with their friends.

I doubt that all of these kids have influenza, but some probably do. As much as it irritates me, I have to admit that my mother was right about cold weather being a factor in catching a virus. At least she was right about the flu virus.

Turns out, influenza is transmitted more easily in cold, dry weather.

Dr. Peter Palese and colleagues did a study and found that it wasn’t the kids crowding together in school that caused a run of flu, because they’re in school in September and May and there’s no flu in the northern hemisphere at that time.

Dr. Palese also found that there’s little flu in the tropics, where it’s hot and humid.

What the scientists discovered was that the flu virus is most easily transmitted in cold, dry weather.

Unlike the cold virus, which is transmitted by touch (direct contact), for instance through a handshake, the flu virus floats in the air and is inhaled. The colder and drier the air, the longer the virus can float and stay viable.

Another factor is that the lower humidity dries out our nasal passages, which allows the inhaled virus to stick more easily than when we have our nasal barriers up and functioning properly.

A warning: temperatures don’t have to plummet to 10⁰ F for the virus to stay viable. The study indicated that 40⁰ F was more than adequate for excellent transmission of the virus.

So what can you do? Get vaccinated to prevent influenza, and keep your hands clean and away from your mucous membranes (around the gums, eyeballs, and nose) to prevent the transmission of other germs.

And wait for spring!

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of Atomische





Flu Education Resources

17 10 2012

The American Lung Association’s Faces of Influenza campaign has a fabulous toolkit available this year that is free-of-charge, along with PSAs that are also free-of-charge.

They have brochures, posters, and flyers ready to print, and they have an influenza backgrounder, templates of articles and letters to the editor, press releases, print ads, and other materials ready to use.

You may download all of these materials, or you may ask that hard copies be sent to you.

There are two campaign spokespeople this year, both of whom are warm and caring individuals—one is Sarah Chalke from the television show Scrubs, and the other is Maria Canals Barrera, from the television show Wizards of Waverly Place.

If you have any questions about the materials, contact Mary Havell at the American Lung Association.

Families Fighting Flu also has materials that may be downloaded and used in flu-fighting efforts. They have posters, postcards, and brochures that may either be downloaded at no cost, or they have hard copies that may be ordered.

The Immunization Action Coalition has handouts about vaccine-preventable diseases and vaccines that may be downloaded from their website free-of-charge.

The Vaccine Education Center at CHOP also has many handouts that are downloadable free-of-charge from their website.

There are lots of other organizations that have free educational material about influenza, including PKIDs.

What materials do you have that you can share with others this flu season? Tell us about them in comments, and leave URLs if you can.

By Trish Parnell
Image courtesy of USACE Europe District





Weekly Flu Update

20 09 2012

In case you couldn’t make the call, here are some notes from the 20 September National Influenza Vaccine Summit call, hosted by Litjen Tan of the AMA:

Scott Epperson from CDC offered this influenza surveillance update

It’s been pretty quiet for seasonal flu, so not much to report. The vaccines we have in the Northern Hemisphere will cover most strains that are circulating, including 2009 H1N1, H3N2, and influenza B.

As for the H3N2v, there have been 305 reported cases so far. The numbers of new cases have dropped dramatically, probably due to the fairs wrapping up around the country, although the strain is still out there, so stay away from the pigs!

New numbers of H3N2v cases are on the CDC website every Friday.

General information on H3N2v can also be found on the CDC website

The Southern Hemisphere is experiencing a more severe flu season than it’s had in several years. The question is, will that hold true for us in the Northern Hemisphere? It’s difficult to say, as H3N2 is circulating more in the South, and they did not have the particular strain in their vaccine this year, although the Northern Hemisphere does have the strain in its current vaccine.

Douglas Shenson reported on his program: Vote & Vax

It’s a fun and impactful program that was initially supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is growing each year. It’s easiest to go to the website to get educated about this effort and to find out how you can set up a flu vaccination clinic at or near a polling place.

NFID News Conference

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) is sponsoring a news conference on 27 September at 10am eastern that will serve as the kickoff for the autumn immunization season. The news conference will be live from the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and Dr. Len Novick is the event coordinator.

Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS, will announce new data of vaccine coverage from the 2011/2012 season.

Manufacturers’ projections for the coming season and the strains for next season will also be discussed.

Dr. Bill Schaffner, immediate past president of NFID, will moderate the conference, and on the panel will be several physicians representing various professional healthcare associations. Anyone may join the conference on the live feed, although pre-registration is a must. The teleconference number is T: 800-755-1805

Remember to visit the Summit website for the latest on influenza immunization resources! You can find it at: www.preventinfluenza.org.





NIVS Weekly Call

10 09 2012

The National Influenza Vaccine Summit was created about a dozen years ago to address and resolve “influenza and influenza vaccine issues.” The CDC, the AMA, and 400+ other partners work together in this year-round effort.

During the flu season, there are weekly calls to keep all of the partners updated on the ups and downs of influenza in the US. And, just last spring in May 2011, there was held in Brussels, Belgium, the first European Influenza Summit. The two groups are now working collaboratively to reduce influenza infections.

The calls are brief and to the point. We thought you might find use for these few notes from the 6 September US call:

  • Scott Epperson from the CDC reported on flu surveillance. He said that there are low numbers of seasonal flu and most of those are H3N2 and influenza B viruses. However, there are 288 confirmed cases of the H3N2v (variant) virus, which is a swine flu strain. (New numbers are posted every Friday, so this figure may change by the time this post runs.) Sixteen of those infected were hospitalized and there was a death—an older individual with multiple, high-risk medical conditions which led to complications of influenza infection. Ninety-three of those infected were under the age of 18, with an average age of six years. Fifty-two percent were female and 48% were male, and of those with a known antiviral treatment status, 60% had been treated, and of those with a known vaccination status, 53% reported being vaccinated within the last year.
  • Harvard has now taken over the Flu Shot Finder started by Google, and they’ve done an excellent job expanding its capabilities. John Brownstein provided slides on the new features and the new site can be found at http://flushot.healthmap.org. There’s a widget available for use on your own websites that will allow people to put in their zip codes to find flu vaccine near them.
  • Christine Harding from the National Council on Aging’s Flu + You campaign presented on their program and the many free resources available to flu educators and healthcare providers. Stop by their site and take a look—there’s bound to be something you can use.

That’s it for this week. We didn’t cover everything, but what’s left out has been covered extensively elsewhere.

Do you have any flu educational resources you’d like to share? Let folks know about them in the comments, and thanks!

By Trish Parnell
Image courtesy of NIVS





H3N2v – Another Swine Flu

9 08 2012

Last summer, there were a dozen reported cases of an influenza A variant virus called H3N2v. This strain comes from pigs. As of today, the official CDC count is 145 cases reported, with a big surge seen in July 2012.

The CDC will report the number of confirmed cases every Friday and that number of 145 is expected to increase tomorrow, 10 August, as the CDC gets more reports from the states.

Because the states are now able to confirm cases without waiting for CDC’s confirmation, the states will always have the most current numbers.

This surge is thought primarily to be connected to agricultural fairs being held around the country.

Before 2007, there were one or two cases reported each year. After that time, and until 2010, there were maybe half a dozen cases reported each year due to improved diagnostics provided to the states.

CDC’s Dr. Joseph Bresee of the Influenza Division says that most of those infected have had direct or indirect exposure to infected pigs, although there have been limited numbers of human-to-human transmission.

Over 90 percent of the infected have been children. Children tend to be the ones that care for the pigs at the fairs, and it may be that while adults have had exposure to H3 viruses and that has given them some antibody protection, the children have no such antibodies.

The symptoms are typical of seasonal influenza and the cases so far have been mild, with a total of five individuals hospitalized since July 2011.

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone has a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

There have been no deaths, and those hospitalized have been released and are well. More hospitalizations are expected for those with high risk conditions.

There is no evidence that there is sustained efficient human-to-human transmission, and it’s not a pandemic situation, but the CDC is monitoring the situation.

Large numbers of agricultural fairs are ongoing in the US, and pigs are the primary source of infection, so it’s recommend that those attending such fairs:

  • Wash hand frequently before and after exposure to animals
  • Don’t eat or drink around animals
  • Keep away from sick pigs
  • If one is at high risk of seasonal flu, avoid exposure to swine completely when going to fairs

If you have flu symptoms following direct exposure to swine, tell your doctor about that exposure so that antivirals may be considered.

The H3N2v strain is not in the seasonal flu vaccine, but get vaccinated to protect yourself against the other strains of influenza.

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of The Portland Press Herald





Flu’s Gonna Lose

13 10 2011

Medical historians believe that influenza became a human disease about 6,000 years ago. Despite the enormous scientific, medical and technological sophistication we enjoy today, influenza, combined with pneumonia, is a leading cause of death in the United States.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says:

Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-related deaths in the United States range from a low of 3,000 people to a high of about 49,000 people. Each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from the flu, including an average of 20,000 children younger than 5 years of age.

The 2009-2010 flu season is an example of how unpredictable flu can be. That season followed the emergence of a new H1N1 influenza virus in the spring of 2009. This virus caused the first influenza pandemic (global outbreak of disease) in more than 40 years. Thousands of healthy children and adults had to visit the doctor or were hospitalized from flu complications.

As individuals, we want to protect ourselves against a largely preventable disease. As a community, we must get vaccinated to protect our youngest and oldest citizens—those most at risk not only for infection, but for the complications that can arise from infection.

If you’re wanting some materials or ideas for this flu season, we’ve developed a program that may be used by anyone wishing to promote flu vaccination.

PKIDs’ Flu’s Gonna Lose campaign urges family and community members to spread the health by refusing the opportunity to experience the vagaries of this deadly disease and instead, offer up an arm to immunization, wash our hands, cover our coughs and sneezes, and stay home to stop the spread of disease.

There are many free materials, both branded and unbranded, available for download from our website, including:

If you have any educational materials to share with others, will you provide URLs in the comments? Sharing ideas and materials is a great way to make our budgets stretch.

Adapted from PKIDs’ website





Flu Shot Already?

29 08 2011

It’s so easy to get flu vaccinations these days. My daughters and I were grocery shopping and we were immunized between the bacon and the frozen pizza aisles.

OK, I confess I didn’t tell my 12-year-old what we were going to do. I lured her to the store with promises of cantaloupe and pepperoni sticks (don’t judge) and slipped in the visit to the pharmacy mid-store. My 15-year-old was happy to get her shot because she had H1N1 last year and is determined never to get the flu again as long as she lives.

Does it seem weird to anyone else to get a flu shot in August? The upside is, there are no lines, and the shot takes a couple of weeks to kick in, so getting it sooner rather than later is a good idea.

Obviously, influenza is on my mind. I was browsing YouTube for flu vaccination videos and came across this one from Australia. What do you think? We need to mix it up a bit. Does this do the trick?

By Trish Parnell

Video courtesy Government of South Australia





Multi-Language Flu Information

24 01 2011

How many times have you been confused by the information (or misinformation) about influenza? Just sorting symptoms, risk factors, vaccination information, and different strains can be a bit of a challenge. Now imagine that you don’t speak the language in which the information is written. Not easy, to say the least.

The CDC’s flu.gov website has a helpful page, “Flu Essentials – What You Need To Know” – with everything you need to know in various languages, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Arabic, Russian, Tagalog, Korean and Vietnamese.

The page links to information sheets that one can print out, and the info sheets cover topics such as “People with Asthma,” “Emergency Warning Signs,” “Pregnancy,” “10 Ways You Can Stay Healthy at Work,” and more.

Everyone is entitled to make an informed decision when it comes to their health and parents must do so on behalf of their children. If you or someone you know could use this important information in a language other than English, be sure to share this blog with them!

¿Cuántas veces ha sido confundido por la información (o información incorrecta) sobre la influenza? Sólo clasificar los síntomas, factores de riesgo, la información de la vacunación, y las tipos diferentes pueden ser un poco un difícil de entender. Ahora imagine que usted no habla el idioma en que está escrita la información.? No es fácil, por decir lo menos.

El CDC tiene una página web, “Fundamentos de la gripe – Lo que usted necesita saber” – con todo lo que necesita saber en varios idiomas, incluyendo español, francés, alemán, italiano, árabe, ruso, tagalo, coreano y vietnamita.

La página le lleva a las hojas de información que se puede imprimir, y las hojas de información cubren temas tales como “Las personas con asma”, “Señales de Alerta de Emergencia”, “Embarazo”, “10 maneras de cuidar su salud en el trabajo , “y mucho más.

Cada uno tiene derecho a tomar una decisión informada cuando viene a su salud y los padres deben hacerlo en nombre de sus niños. ¡Si usted o alguien que usted sabe podría utilizar esta información importante en un idiomia distinto del inglés, esté seguro de compartir este acoplamiento con éllos!





Got Flu?

13 12 2010

Dr. Mary Beth, PKIDs’ advice nurse, helps you get through nasty influenza.

Listen now!

Right-click here to download podcast (6mins/2.5mb)





Pregnant Women and Infants: Flu Targets

15 11 2010

(courtesy of CDC)

The first and second U.S. deaths from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic were in a 22-month-old child and a 33-year old pregnant woman. These deaths were a sad sign of the toll this pandemic would take on young children and pregnant women. While pregnant women and young children have been considered at “high risk of flu-related complications” for years, 2009 H1N1 flu hit them really hard.

The risk from flu is greater for pregnant women because pregnancy can reduce the ability of the lungs and the immune system to work normally. This can be bad for both mother and baby. According to a study done during the first month of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, the rate of hospitalizations was four times higher in pregnant women than other groups. Also, although pregnant women are about 1% of the U.S. population, they made up about 5% of U.S. deaths from 2009 H1N1 reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) from April 14 – August 21, 2009.

Young children, whose immune systems are still developing, are also at-risk for flu-related complications. Each year about 100 flu-related deaths in children are thought to occur in the U.S. During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, more than 300 deaths in children were reported to CDC. CDC believes that many more deaths in children may have gone unrecognized or unreported.

Experts think the 2009 H1N1 virus will be around again this flu season. In fact, one of the three parts of this season’s flu vaccine will protect against the 2009 H1N1 virus. While CDC is now encouraging everyone six months and older to get vaccinated against the flu, there is a special message for pregnant women and parents: “Don’t pass up this easy way to protect yourself and your children against the flu,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service and CDC Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

“Getting a flu vaccine during pregnancy can reduce the risk of getting the flu while pregnant and after,” says Dr. Schuchat. “And babies younger than six months can get very sick from flu, but are too young to get vaccinated. The best way to protect them is to have their caregivers and close contacts vaccinated.”

Seasonal flu shots have been given safely to millions of pregnant women and children over many years.  Though there is no proof that thimerosal (a preservative) is harmful to a pregnant woman, their babies, or young children, some worry about it. So, as before, vaccine companies are making plenty of preservative-free flu vaccine as an option for pregnant women and small children.

Usually worse than the common cold, the flu can cause fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and weakness. Some people also have diarrhea and vomiting. Pregnant women and parents of children younger than two years of age should call their doctor or nurse right away if they, or their children, become sick. A doctor can prescribe flu antiviral drugs.

Vaccination continues to be the best protection. Get yourself—and all of your children 6 months of age and older—vaccinated against the flu to keep all family members healthy this flu season. One shot will last all flu season, even if you get it early in the season.

For more information, talk to your doctor or contact CDC at 1-800-CDC-INFO or www.cdc.gov.