HEALTH

World Health Organization announces flu pandemic alert change

BY Michael Johnsen

GENEVA The current situation regarding the outbreak of swine influenza A(H1N1) is evolving rapidly, the World Health Organization stated in a press release Monday.

“As of 27 April, the United States government has reported 40 laboratory confirmed human cases of swine influenza A(H1N1), with no deaths. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection with the same virus, including seven deaths. Canada has reported six cases, with no deaths, while Spain has reported one case, with no deaths,” WHO stated.

In responose, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan has raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from the current phase 3 to phase 4. The change to a higher phase of pandemic alert indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased, but not that a pandemic is inevitable.

In Phase 3, an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus has caused sporadic cases or small clusters of disease in people, but has not resulted in human-to-human transmission sufficient to sustain community-level outbreaks. Limited human-to-human transmission may occur under some circumstances, for example, when there is close contact between an infected person and an unprotected caregiver. However, limited transmission under such restricted circumstances does not indicate that the virus has gained the level of transmissibility among humans necessary to cause a pandemic.

Phase 4 is characterized by verified human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion.

Phase 5 indicates an imminent pandemic and phase 6 signifies an actual pandemic.

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Swine flu update: Cases confirmed at NYC prep school

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK As of 1 p.m. Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 20 additional cases of swine flu in New York, bringing the total number of swine flu cases so far to 40 overall and 28 in New York.

The New York City Department of Health is investigating a cluster of illness at the St. Francis Preparatory School in Queens, where 100 students missed classes because of flu-like illness last week. Daily calls with hospitals and monitoring of admissions have yet to suggest a wider or more severe outbreak.

The 20 additional cases of swine flu were associated with the St. Francis Preparatory School, the CDC confirmed.

All of the patients suffered only minor illness.

The NYC Health Department has also identified 17 more probable cases within the St. Francis school cluster. Nasal swabs from those patients are undergoing confirmatory testing at the CDC.

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Study: Breast-feeding reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, related illnesses

BY Michael Johnsen

PITTSBURGH The longer women breast-feed, the lower their risk of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease, reported University of Pittsburgh researchers in a study published in the May issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, so it’s vitally important for us to know what we can do to protect ourselves,” stated Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. “We have known for years that breastfeeding is important for babies’ health; we now know that it is important for mothers’ health as well.”

According to the study, postmenopausal women who breastfed for at least one month had lower rates of diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, all known to cause heart disease. Women who had breastfed their babies for more than a year were 10% less likely to have had a heart attack, stroke, or developed heart disease than women who had never breastfed.

Schwarz and colleagues found that the benefits from breastfeeding were long-term ? an average of 35 years had passed since women enrolled in the study had last breastfed an infant.

“The longer a mother nurses her baby, the better for both of them,” Schwarz pointed out. “Our study provides another good reason for workplace policies to encourage women to breastfeed their infants.”

The findings are based on 139,681 postmenopausal women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative study of chronic disease, initiated in 1994.

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