HEALTH

CDC: Flu season past its peak but still going strong

BY Michael Johnsen

ATLANTA — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s FluView report released Friday, flu activity remains high overall, but is declining in parts of the country while increasing in other parts of the country. Most notably the Southeast, which began experiencing high levels of flu activity at the end of November, is now showing declines in activity. 

Flu activity is likely to continue for some time, the agency projected. Anyone aged 6 months and older who has not gotten a flu vaccine yet this season should get one now, especially if they are in a part of the country where activity is still at a high level, CDC advised. 

For the week of Jan. 12 to 18, the proportion of people seeing their health care provider for influenza-like illness decreased for the third week, but remains above the national baseline. All ten regions continue to report ILI activity above their region-specific baseline level. ILI activity is increasing among some Western and Northeastern states. 

Thirteen states experienced high ILI activity. This is a decrease from the 14 states that reported high ILI activity last week. Seven states and New York City experienced moderate ILI activity. Fifteen states experienced low ILI activity. Fifteen states experienced minimal ILI activity. 

Forty-one states reported widespread geographic influenza activity; an increase from the 40 states that reported widespread activity in the previous week. Puerto Rico and eight states reported regional activity. The District of Columbia reported local activity and Guam and Hawaii reported sporadic influenza activity. The U.S. Virgin Islands reported no influenza activity.

The highest hospitalization rates are among people 65 and older and children younger than 5 years. This is typical of most flu seasons.

However, of the 4,615 influenza-associated hospitalizations that have been reported this season, 61% have been in people ages 18 to 64 years. More commonly, most flu hospitalizations occur in people 65 and older. This pattern of more hospitalizations among younger people was also seen during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.

Influenza A (H3N2), 2009 influenza A (H1N1), and influenza B viruses have all been identified in the U.S. this season. To date, influenza A (H1N1) viruses have predominated. This is the H1N1 virus that emerged in 2009 to cause a pandemic and is the first season that the virus has circulated at such high levels since the pandemic. During the week of January 12-18, 2,707 of the 2,793 influenza-positive tests reported to CDC were influenza A viruses and 86 were influenza B viruses. Of the 1,785 influenza A viruses that were subtyped, 3.2% were H3 viruses and 96.8% were 2009 H1N1 viruses.

As many as 710 (99.8%) of the 711 2009 H1N1 viruses tested were characterized as A/California/7/2009-like. This is the influenza A (H1N1) component of the Northern Hemisphere quadrivalent and trivalent vaccines for the 2013-2014 season.

 

 

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Kaz launches online tool to help Americans understand health impact of humidity

BY Michael Johnsen

SOUTHBOROUGH, Mass. — Kaz last week launched the Vicks Moisture Map, an online tool to help families understand how too little humidity can create issues for the body, pets and the home.

The interactive map pinpoints the top 10 driest cities across the country by synthesizing weather data and geographical data from several sources. 

“When looking at the top cities in America with the driest air, the Southwest definitely has a cluster due to the desert environment in states like New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada," Ted Myatt, senior scientist with Environmental Health & Engineering and the University of Rhode Island, said. "Even though hot and dry go hand in hand — so does cold and dry — and experts believe the flu season may spike in winter months due to low humidity levels,” he said. “New scientific research indicates keeping your home’s relative humidity levels between 40-60% can decrease influenza survival in the air and on countertops, doorknobs, and other surfaces. That’s why it’s so important to check your humidity levels and increase indoor humidity with a humidifier.”

And according to a recent survey of U.S. moms the most annoying winter ailments to their families are dry skin and chapped lips, followed by stuffy noses. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites that at least 81 million Americans experience dry, itchy or scaly skin during the winter due to colder, dryer air and over-heated homes. 

The recent survey of U.S. moms also found that nearly half of all moms (48%) surveyed own a humidifier and 88% of those believe their health and comfort has improved as a result. 

 

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Test kit that detects influenza A and B virus within 15 minutes launches in Europe

BY Michael Johnsen

WALTHAM, Mass. — Alere on Thursday announced the availability in Europe of the Alere i Influenza A & B test, a molecular test that detects and differentiates influenza A and B virus in less than 15 minutes. The test is now commercially available in Austria, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the U.K. 

"Alere i is a transformational platform that allows healthcare professionals to make a rapid influenza diagnosis — and effective patient management decisions — in a clinically meaningful timeframe, whether the patient is in the physician office, emergency department or urgent care clinic," stated Avi Pelossof, Alere global president of infectious disease. "Alere i also significantly expands screening opportunities by making innovative, rapid molecular testing technology available at the point of care as well as in laboratory settings." 

Molecular testing involves the extraction and analysis of DNA or RNA strands to detect sequences associated with viral and bacterial causes of infections. Alere i Influenza A & B is the first molecular diagnostic test that delivers actionable, lab-accurate results in less than 15 minutes on a user-friendly platform, the company stated. The proprietary technology utilizes isothermal nucleic acid amplification technology, which, unlike polymerase chain reaction testing, does not require temperature cycling and can therefore deliver results more quickly and to a broader range of settings. 

Alere i tests for Strep A, C. difficile, respiratory syncytial virus and chlamydia/gonorrhoea are currently in development.

Alere i Influenza A & B is currently under regulatory review in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration and is not available in the U.S. pending completion of such review.

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