Monday, November 25, 2013

It's flu season again

I harvested such a bumper crop of health news for Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (MAVEN to Mars) at Daily Kos that I've decided to release it in themed installments.  Today, the theme is flu.  I begin with this bonus video from Accuweather, Is it a Cold or the Flu?

Nov 25, 2013; 5:00 AM ET Symptoms caused by the common cold can often resemble those associated with the influenza virus, so how do you differentiate between the two?
Follow over the jump for four research articles from campuses on the campaign trail about their efforts to fight flu.

University of California, San Diego: Stuck on Flu
How a sugar-rich mucus barrier traps the virus – and it gets free to infect
By Scott LaFee
November 22, 2013
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have shown for the first time how influenza A viruses snip through a protective mucus net to both infect respiratory cells and later cut their way out to infect other cells.

The findings, published online today in Virology Journal by principal investigator Pascal Gagneux, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, and colleagues, could point the way to new drugs or therapies that more effectively inhibit viral activity, and perhaps prevent some flu infections altogether.
University of Alabama, Birmingham: Cancer patients at increased risk for severe flu complications
By Nicole Wyatt
Friday, November 22, 2013
It is often noted that very young people and the elderly are most at-risk for experiencing flu-related complications, and one expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham says people with weakened immune systems due to diseases like cancer are also at an increased risk of severe complications from the virus.

flu_cancer_s“The flu shot is recommended annually for cancer patients, as it is the most effective way to prevent influenza and its complications,” said Mollie deShazo, M.D., associate professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology and medical director of UAB Inpatient Oncology. “The flu vaccine significantly lowers the risk of acquiring the flu; it is not 100 percent effective, but it is the best tool we have.”

Flu activity in the United States is low, even after increasing slightly in recent weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, more activity is expected, and people who have not had a flu vaccine this year are advised to do so.

“It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot, but you can benefit even if you get the vaccine after the flu has arrived in your community,” deShazo said.
The Daily Iowan: UIHC developing new vaccine
NOVEMBER 21, 2013
The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics has taken on the duty of finding a vaccine to prevent a deadly disease that recently broke out in China.

H7N9 is a new form of influenza found throughout China’s poultry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 135 cases were found, and 44 people died this past spring.

In October, four more cases emerged. Officials say the disease has not escaped China, but the UIHC is one of eight U.S. institutions working to develop a preventative vaccine.

“This strain of influenza in China lead to about a 30 percent mortality rate, which is very high for any infectious disease,” said Patricia Winokur, the principal investigator on the project. “We’ve had very little spread from person-to-person at this time, but what we know is that influenza viruses can swap from genes very easily. It may be acquiring new genes to spread from person-to person and if that happens, we know that it would spread quickly.”
San Diego State University: Hashtag Health
SDSU geography professor Ming-Hsiang Tsou's method of using Twitter to track the spread of influenza is producing results.
By Michael Price
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
As the United States enters the sniffly, sneezy heart of flu season, a social media–monitoring program led by a San Diego State University researcher could clue in physicians and health officials to when and where severe outbreaks are occurring in real time.

SDSU geography professor Ming-Hsiang Tsou, who leads the project, follows disease-related keywords that pop up on Twitter in order to identify locations where outbreaks of influenza are occurring, sometimes weeks before traditional methods can detect them. Last month, the first results from the project were published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. Tsou’s technique might allow officials to more quickly and efficiently direct resources to outbreak zones and better contain the spread of the disease.

“There is the potential to use social media to really improve the way we monitor the flu and other public health concerns,” Tsou said.
Stay tuned for more, including the Affordable Care Act and dealing with the stress of the holidays.

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