H1N1: More Questions Than Answers

24 07 2009

Is it wrong to say I’m sick of pandemic (H1N1) 2009, influenza A (H1N1), novel influenza A H1N1, swine flu virus 2009, etc?  Not sick with, just sick of.

Yet, drop a hint of H1N1 into the conversation and I’m all ears (I know, it’s sick).

So many questions, so few answers at this time…

We’re hearing a lot about antigens and adjuvants in relation to the vaccines that are being developed by various manufacturers.

An antigen is the active ingredient in a vaccine that causes our bodies to produce the immune response, or development of antibodies, that helps us fight the virus, should we become infected.

An adjuvant is an additive that might be added to a vaccine to boost the immune system’s response and, we hope, reduce the amount of antigen necessary for the body to recognize and fight a virus.

If we can reduce the amount of antigen necessary for each dose, then we can further stretch our available vaccine supply.

Are vaccine manufacturers going to use an adjuvant, the additive that boosts our immune response to the vaccine (although scientists are saying we’ll still need two doses)?

There’s no definitive answer as of this date, 24 July 2009.

If an adjuvant will be used, is it one that’s been used before and if so, has it been used with a swine flu virus?

Adjuvants have been used before, but not against a swine flu virus.  No one knows at this time if this will make a difference.

For each potential vaccine, how many subjects will be tested in clinical trials before the vaccine is made available to the general public?

We probably won’t know until it’s done.

How much adjuvant should be used?  Will studies be done to determine age-specific responses to an antigen/adjuvant mix?  Will each manufacturer be using a different antigen and adjuvant combination and what pre-licensure studies will be done for each?  Will studies be done on at-risk populations like those who are immune-compromised or obese?

Don’t know.

Since one of the groups most affected by this virus is kids, and therefore the youth in the U.S. will surely be encouraged to get vaccinated, how many kids will be in the pre-licensure trials?

Don’t know.

We sincerely hope someone has the answers to these questions and shares those answers with all of us, although it’s encouraging to realize that vaccine development is not a new science and the world’s governments have plans for dealing with the many issues that arise in a pandemic situation.


H1N1 Moves to Phase 6

11 06 2009

After weeks of saying it without saying it, today WHO is moving the pandemic scale from phase 5 to phase 6.


In the U.S. and many other countries, this is simply a formality, as the actions being taken by the various governments (local, state, provincial, federal) will stay on course, unaffected by the WHO declaration.

CDC believes that novel H1N1 (swine flu) is at a category 2 out of 5 on the pandemic severity index.

Brushing away all the extra words and getting to the core, nothing new has happened with the virus.

Everyone is waiting to see what happens in the Southern Hemisphere this summer.  It’s their flu season and the virus may mutate, get more severe, die down, or remain at its current level of severity.

There will be another holding of the collective breath this fall as we see what happens when flu season gets going in the North.


H1N1 – It’s Like Gum On Your Shoe

22 05 2009

H1N1 has been around for a few weeks and we’ve whipped through “how worried should we be” straight into “swine flu? thought that was done.”

CDC says that flu activity is decreasing in the U.S., but that levels are still higher than normal for this time of year.  Note that not all diagnosed cases of flu are H1N1.

East Coast folks are still a bit above normal in number for late spring influenza infections.

The H1N1 strain is mild at this time, although there have been some deaths and hospitalizations.  The constant worry continues to be next fall – what will the virus do?

Younger people are getting the worst of it right now.  More than 60 percent of cases are in people between the ages of five and 24.  Fifty-eight percent of hospitalizations have occurred in people between the ages of 10 and 49.

The pre-existing medical conditions (asthma, pregnancy and others) that put people at risk of complications from seasonal flu also are risk factors with H1N1.

Money has been put toward the development of a vaccine for H1N1 but it’s yet to be decided if and how much vaccine would be produced.

As we go into the Memorial Day weekend, the word is:

  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Wash hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your sleeve or a Kleenex, then wash your hands – again!

H1N1 As Nature Made It

15 05 2009

H1N1 flu (aka swine flu) was not brewed in eggs in some dimly lit laboratory at the back end of Nowheresville.  So says the World Health Organization.  Well, maybe not those exact words, but the meaning is the same – there was no lab accident that allowed a new flu strain to spill forth and infect.One retired plant virologist in Australia decided that the strain looked suspiciously man-made and he voiced his opinion in no uncertain terms.

Before he closed his mouth, the rumor (because it’s certainly not fact) streaked across the globe at the speed of Superman.

Rumors have a habit of putting the kibosh on disease prevention, and that’s not acceptable.  In the past, people have even refused vaccination because of rumors that the vaccines would make them sterile.  The consequences to their refusal have been grim.

So, the World Health Organization is speaking up.  The novel H1N1 flu (aka swine flu) strain was not man-made.  It’s just a stinking fluke of nature.

Stay Up-To-Date on H1N1

8 05 2009

We haven’t written about H1N1 lately – not much has changed. 

In the Northern Hemisphere, we’ve moved out of flu season, which may be why H1N1 isn’t exploding into a pandemic.  We’re all waiting to see what the virus does in countries like Australia, where flu season is just starting.

To keep up-to-date with this novel flu strain, CDC has created a page on their site that’s kind of a catch-all, but helpful.  You don’t have to search much to find what you need.

Meanwhile, to avoid getting or giving this and so many other infections: wash hands, cover coughs and sneezes, stay home if you’re sick.

Have a good weekend:)

May Day

1 05 2009

It’s May Day, the day we used to hang tiny paper vases full of flowers on doorknobs. 

Today, we’re going to write about the flu, again, but this should be the last daily blog about this subject.  Oh, we’ll cover it fairly often, but not every day.  So here goes.

We’re getting some good news about influenza A (H1N1) [aka swine flu and/or 2009-H1N1].

CDC laboratory testing has found that this new virus does not have similar characteristics to the 1918 pandemic virus that resulted in millions of deaths worldwide.

Also, the disease-causing markers that were previously found in the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus that has caused human infections and deaths in other countries have not been found in the new virus.

All this suggests that, while we are dealing with a new strain for which we have no vaccine, it probably isn’t going to be the monster we feared.

The CDC is estimating at least two more weeks before they have a vaccine virus that can be sent to vaccine manufacturers.  It will then take about six months, maybe less, to produce large quantities of vaccine.

There are antiviral medications available by prescription, should you become infected, so you’re not defenseless.  But, if you are ill, stay home for seven days or until your symptoms go away, whichever is longer.  This will keep you from accidently infecting others.

And one last note today…we can’t get this new flu from eating pork, so pig out on the bacon!  Oh, and Happy May Day!

First, Let’s Kill All the Pigs!

30 04 2009

Egypt is killing all pigs within its borders.  The influenza A (H1N1) (the virus formerly known as 2009-H1N1 and before that as swine flu) has bits from four different strains of influenza – two are from swine, one is avian and one is human.  It’s a new strain of flu.  Killing all the pigs seems as logical as creating a no-bird zone over Egypt…and what about the human bit that’s mixed up in this new strain?  We shudder to think where that might lead.

More cases or just more confirmations?

More and more cases are being confirmed.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that there are lots of new cases every day; it does mean that the labs are starting to confirm what they have under their microscopes.

But, it is the flu, and flu spreads around.  We’ll have to wait and see how bad it gets – or how mild it stays.

What we can do.

What we can do as individuals:  keep hands clean, cover coughs and sneezes, stay at least six feet away from coughers and sneezers and stay home if we’re symptomatic. 

If you have questions that can’t be answered elsewhere, call 1-800-CDCINFO and ask them.  They’ve put dozens more people on the phones and the wait is supposed to be under 90 seconds.

A vaccine.

Plans at the moment are for the vaccine manufacturers to complete their regular production of seasonal influenza vaccine, then start manufacturing influenza A (H1N1) vaccine in the fall.  Those plans might change, if the situation remains fluid.

There will not be enough doses for everyone at the beginning, so decisions will need to be made about who should first be vaccinated.  Many forward-thinking people engaged the public on this question and the results may be found here.