Flu Vaccine Is Only Moderately Protective This Year, CDC Says

This year’s flu vaccine is offering moderate protection against the main family of viruses causing illness, data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

The data comes as what has been a pretty active flu season is near its apex in many parts of the country.

“We won’t know when the peak has occurred until we’ve passed it and have a couple of weeks to look back,” said Lynnette Brammer, head of domestic influenza surveillance at the CDC. “We hopefully are approaching the peak but we may not be there yet.”

Overall, getting a flu shot cut one’s risk of contracting flu and needing to see a doctor by 48 percent this season, when the effectiveness of the various components of the vaccine were assessed together, according to the report published in the CDC’s online journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Far and away the most common cause of influenza so far this year is the influenza A virus family known as H3N2. Seasons when H3N2 viruses dominate are typically harsh because the virus is especially hard on older adults. Older adults also get less benefit from flu vaccines than healthy younger people.

Mixed effectiveness

This year is not an exception. The CDC data, drawn from five surveillance sites across the country, suggest that the H3N2 component of the 2016-17 flu vaccine offered about 43 percent protection against medically attended influenza.

To put that in context, the influenza B component of the vaccine this year appears to offer about 73 percent protection. The CDC could not estimate vaccine effectiveness for the influenza A H1N1 component of the vaccine because those viruses haven’t played much of a role so far this winter.

“It’s not as good as we would like to see, and we’ve seen higher for some of the seasons — more for H1N1 and for [flu] B,” said Brendan Flannery, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s influenza division.

“But for H3N2, it’s as good as we have seen for some of the H3N2 seasons that have been well matched.”

In the last H3N2-dominant flu season, in 2014-15, the target virus in the vaccine was not well matched to the viruses that were making people sick. That year data suggested the vaccine offered virtually no protection against H3N2 viruses.

The need for better vaccines

“Forty percent to 50 percent is a lot better than zero, but what it really begs the question is: Why are we not working hard to get new and better flu vaccines?” said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy and a long-time advocate for the development of more effective flu vaccines.

“Last year we spent over a billion dollars researching new HIV vaccines — an amount that I think is an important investment. But the best estimate we can come up with is we only spend about $35 million globally on … research on new game-changing flu vaccines.’’

The US findings mesh with vaccine effectiveness results seen elsewhere this season.

Last week Canadian researchers reported they are seeing about 42 percent protection from the H3N2 component of the vaccine north of the border. And European scientists reported vaccine effectiveness of 38 percent for H3N2 on Thursday.

Jacqueline Katz, deputy director of the CDC’s influenza division, said a theory behind the poor performance of the H3N2 component of the vaccine relates to the way flu vaccine is produced.

Most influenza vaccine is produced in hen’s eggs; the viruses have to adapt to grow in eggs. That’s true of all families of flu but for some reason the H3N2 viruses adapt in ways that introduce important differences. In essence, the viruses produced in the eggs are different from the viruses circulating in people and don’t adequately prime immune systems to recognize and fend off those viruses. In some years those differences are more pronounced than others.

Sudden Death Warning Over Faulty Heart Gene

An estimated 620,000 people in the UK have a faulty gene that puts them at risk of developing coronary heart disease or sudden death, and most are unaware, a charity has warned.

The British Heart Foundation said the figure was 100,000 more than had been thought and could be even higher.

It said there was now a better grasp of the prevalence of inherited conditions.

A child of someone with an inherited heart condition can have a 50% chance of inheriting it themselves.

The charity warned that the overall figure for those with the faulty gene could be much higher because of as yet undiscovered faulty genes and under-diagnoses.

Each week in the UK, around 12 seemingly healthy people aged 35 or under are victims of sudden cardiac death with no explanation, largely due to undiagnosed heart conditions.

Former England and Nottinghamshire cricketer James Taylor had to retire last year, at the age of 26, after he was diagnosed with the serious heart condition arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy.

Radio Four’s Today programme that he had been warming up for the first game of the season in Cambridge when his heart started “going mental in my chest”.

He said: “You could see my shirt moving, that’s how hard my heart was beating inside my chest…

“I went off, I had some oxygen, then I went to hospital some hours later.

“When I walked in to hospital they said it was a miracle I was able to walk in.

“My heart rate was going at 265 beats per minute.”

A normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute, but Taylor’s remained at 265 for six to seven hours – “the equivalent of doing five, six marathons.”

He now treats the condition with medication and said he was fortunate to survive.

“I’m still alive. I should have died – that’s the scary thing about these inherited heart conditions.

“A lot of people don’t get the opportunities I had and it’s often too late.”

Research has helped to discover many of the faulty genes that cause inherited heart conditions.

This has led to the development of structured genetic testing services for those at highest risk for some of these conditions.

However, the British Heart Foundation says more research is urgently needed.

Inherited heart conditions: What you need to know

  • Many people with an inherited heart condition have no symptoms, but some can develop some warning signs including dizzy spells, palpitations and blackouts
  • Screening and genetic testing can help identify problems
  • Doctors will suggest you be tested if a family member has been diagnosed with an inherited heart condition, there is a family history of premature deaths or you have been diagnosed with angina or had a heart attack at a young age
  • If you are diagnosed with an inherited heart condition, monitoring and treatment can reduce the risk of a sudden heart attack or cardiac arrest
  • Speak to your GP if you are concerned

Prof Sir Nilesh Samani, BHF medical director, said: “The reality is that there are hundreds of thousands of people across the UK who are unaware that they could be at risk of sudden death.

“If undetected and untreated, inherited heart conditions can be deadly and they continue to devastate families, often by taking away loved ones without warning.

“We urgently need to fund more research to better understand these heart conditions, make more discoveries, develop new treatments and save more lives.”

Brazil Confirms More Yellow Fever Cases; Over 100 Infected

Authorities in Brazil’s Sao Paulo state say three more people have died from yellow fever, adding to an outbreak that has seen more than 100 cases.

The vast majority of cases are in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, where authorities had confirmed 97 cases as of Friday. Of those, 40 died.

The Health Department of Sao Paulo on Monday said it has now confirmed six cases of the disease, four of whom became infected in Minas Gerais. All of the patients died. The state of Espirito Santo has also recorded one case.

Much of Brazil is considered at risk for yellow fever, but the country has not seen this large an outbreak since 2000. The World Health Organization has said it expects the mosquito-borne to spread to more states.

Diabetes May Be A Major, Overlooked Reason Americans Are Now Dying Earlier

In 2015, a blockbuster study came to a shocking conclusion: Middle-age white Americans are dying at younger ages for the first time in decades, despite our advances in medical technology and the positive trends in other wealthy countries.

The research, by Princeton’s Anne Case and Angus Deaton, highlighted the links between economic struggles, suicides, and alcohol and drug overdoses. Since then, researchers have been scrambling to fully explain the trend, which now seems to be affecting the entire population. The efforts have suggested it’s not just “deaths of despair”— from opioids, alcohol, and suicides — that account for the dip in life expectancy, but that violence and cardiovascular disease seem to be major contributors, too.

Now, a new study provides another clue about what’s behind the backward sliding of American mortality: the hidden toll of diabetes.

Diabetes’ prevalence has exploded in the US over the past 20 years. Nearly 30 million Americans live with the disease today — more than three times the number in the early 1990s.

And researchers have long known that diabetes is an underreported cause of death on death certificates, the primary data source for determining life expectancy trends. That’s because people with diabetes often have multiple health conditions, or “comorbidities,” such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and even cancer.

When both diabetes and heart disease are listed on a death certificate, the decision to list diabetes as the primary cause of death is “highly variable,” said Andrew Stokes, assistant professor of global health at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “Often times, the [death certificate] certifier will code the death as being caused by heart disease rather than a death from diabetes,” he added. “So to some extent, deaths that should be attributed to diabetes go to other causes.”

For new research in the journal PLoS One, Stokes and his co-author Samuel Preston of the University of Pennsylvania decided to look at more granular administrative records and surveys — the National Health Interview Study and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey — to find out whether they could estimate how often diabetes might be the primary but overlooked cause of death.

To come up with an estimate, they calculated the prevalence of diabetes in the population and the increased risk of death among people with diabetes during five years of follow up.

Their results were astounding. While death certificates usually suggest that around 3.5 percent of deaths were caused by diabetes, the researchers found the number may be closer to 12 percent — three times higher than the typical estimates. Among obese individuals, the death rate from diabetes was even higher, at 19 percent.

That means that while diabetes is generally listed as the seventh most common cause of death in America, said Stokes, their results suggest it’s probably the third leading cause of death after cancer and heart disease.

“When we look at that surprising decline in life expectancy in 2015, and argue about the causes, we believe diabetes is somewhat obscured from this debate because it doesn’t jump out in the mortality statistics,” Stokes said. “For that same reason it may not be implicated in trends as much as it should be.”

As a result, relatively fewer health dollars and less policy attention are focused on diabetes compared to other more obvious contributors to this health crisis. If Preston and Stokes are correct, though, that needs to change.

“Mortality has been improving unusually slowly for about the last eight to 10 years,” said Preston. “We know the opioid epidemic is part of the problem. But I don’t think it accounts for all of the difficulties we’re facing. And an obvious place to look is obesity and diabetes.”

Brazil Sees Sharp Rise In Yellow Fever Cases

Health officials in Brazil say there has been a sharp rise in the cases of yellow fever in the country. They said there had been 63 confirmed cases of the mosquito-borne illness so far this year, up from seven in the whole of 2016.

Most of the cases have been in rural areas of Minas Gerais state, a Ministry of Health statement said.

The government has sent two million doses of yellow fever vaccines to the state.

The governor of Minas Gerais has declared a 180-day state of emergency.

What is yellow fever?

  • Caused by a virus that is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes
  • Difficult to diagnose and often confused with other diseases or fevers
  • Most people recover after the first phase of infection that usually involves fever, muscle and back pain, headache, shivers, loss of appetite, and nausea or vomiting
  • About 15% of people face a second, more serious phase involving high fever, jaundice, bleeding and deteriorating kidney function
  • Half of those who enter the “toxic” phase usually die within 10 to 14 days

of the 63 confirmed cases in Brazil, 35 have proved fatal, Brazilian Health Ministry figures show.

That is the highest number of deaths since at least 2008, the year to which Ministry of Health records date back.

There have also been three confirmed cases in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s most populous state, and one each in Espiritu Santo and Bahia, which both neighbour Minas.

It is not clear what has caused the rise in cases.

Brazil Investigating Dozens Of Suspected Yellow Fever Cases

Brazilian authorities say they’ve now confirmed 47 cases of yellow fever, and 25 deaths. The Health Ministry also says it’s investigating more than 160 other suspected cases of the mosquito-borne disease.

The outbreak is centered in the east-central state of Minas Gerais, whose governor declared a 180-state of emergency this month after an initial report of eight deaths.

The government says it’s sent 2 million extra doses of vaccine against the disease to Minas Gerais. And it says hundreds of thousands of other doses will be sent there and to nearby Espirito Santo this week.

Last year, Brazil registered just seven confirmed yellow fever cases.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the disease can cause fever, chills, severe headache, pain, nausea and vomiting.

New Technology Lets Diabetics Skip Multiple Finger Pricks

One of the biggest complaints for diabetics is that they hate having to prick their fingers multiple times to test sugar levels throughout the day. But now, there’s new technology that’s changing that.

The Food and Drug Administration A has approved the Dexcom G5 continuous glucose monitoring system (CGM). Instead of multiple finger pricks to track your blood sugar levels, you will only need two per day.

Here’s how the Dexcom G5 works:

A sensor is attached to a transmitter, which is placed under your skin on the abdomen. The device lasts for about a week and then is removed and replaced.

Glucose data is sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone app to update your insulin levels for up to 12 hours. Users can get up to 288 readings per day.

The system is available now and is covered by many insurance companies.

5 Dental Myths That May Be Hurting Your Health

Research shows that your teeth can speak volumes about your overall health, so it’s important to be informed when it comes to taking care of your mouth.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor for FoxNews.com, recently sat down with Dr. Gerry Curatola, founder of Rejuvenation Dentistry in New York City to debunk some common dental myths that could be hurting your health.

Sugar is the main cause of tooth decay.

We’ve all heard it growing up:  Sugar will rot your teeth. But while sugar can lead to cavity formation – as well as a variety of other health maladies – it’s not the real culprit when it comes to tooth decay.

“This is a myth in a sense because sugar, while being ‘the gasoline in the tank’ is not the cause of tooth decay. It’s actually acids from bacteria that have gone to the dark side,” Curatola told FoxNews.com. “We talk about good bugs and bad bugs; bad bugs are actually an unhealthy expression of natural bacteria in the mouth.”

“Bad bugs” are formed when you digest carbohydrates. Refined sugar is an example, but other carbohydrates can include healthy foods like vegetables, fruits and grains. These “bad bugs” produce acid in your mouth that, when combined with saliva, result in plaque formation.

Teeth whitening will damage your enamel.

The key ingredients in over-the-counter whitening products are hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which work as oxidizing agents to remove stains on the surface of the enamel. White strips, trays and pastes meant for at-home use usually contain about 3 to 10 percent of these active ingredients and are generally considered safe. Curatola noted as with everything, moderation is important.

“Really, the safest teeth whitening is done under the supervision of a dentist or a dental hygienist in a dental office … There’s a lot of over-the-counter products that can damage your enamel,” said Curatola. “If the product is too acidic, the product is too strong …  Overuse or misuse of these products can cause the enamel to get fragile and even more porous. These are the kinds of things that really need more regulation, and they can be damaging, but teeth whitening by itself is a safe treatment.”

One of the most common side effects of whitening your teeth, whether done in a dentist’s office or at home, is tooth sensitivity. Research out of Ohio State University College of Dentistry has shown that some enamel loss is possible when using bleaching agents, but sometimes, enamel has been found to remineralize itself over time.

Silver fillings don’t need to be replaced.

One of the most hotly debated issues among dentists these days is whether or not old, silver amalgam fillings in the mouths of so many Americans are safe.

“A lot of patients are not even informed that silver-colored fillings are actually 52 percent mercury,” said Curatola. “There’s also research – and it’s proven that mercury leeches out over time from these silver fillings – more if you drink hot liquids and chew things. My opinion is that I don’t think any amount of mercury is good, and especially if [these fillings are] breaking down, they should be replaced.”

Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that at certain levels has been linked to autoimmune diseases, neurological issues, chronic diseases and even mental disorders.  One concern among dental professionals is that people with amalgam fillings who grind their teeth, chew gum and drink hot or carbonated drinks could be exposed to a dangerous level of mercury vapors.

Mouthwash with alcohol is good to use.

The use of mouthwash containing alcohol has been linked with oral cancer since the 1970s. But more recent research has questioned the association, citing that many study participants who frequently use alcohol-containing mouthwash were drinkers and smokers, making it hard to establish a definitive cause-and-effect outcome. But Curatola warns that frequent use of these mouthwashes can lead to other dental problems.

“Mouthwash should not have alcohol,” said Curatola. “Alcohol is dehydrating and denaturing to this natural ecology of the mouth called the oral microbiome.”

Wisdom teeth serve no purpose.

Wisdom teeth are a product of evolution that got their name from the time that they appear in your mouth – usually between the ages of 17 to 25. It is thought that the coarse food our ancestors ate caused the jaw to grow larger and stronger, allowing for more teeth in our mouths. But over time, our jaws began to shrink to make way for our growing brains, leaving many people with overcrowded mouths and painful impactions when their wisdom teeth break through.

“Wisdom teeth are called vestigial organs, like your tonsils and your appendix,” said Curatola. “I don’t think every child should have their wisdom teeth ripped out, but I do believe that we are finding an intraspecies evolution where wisdom teeth are not having room to erupt, and if they are malpositioned, they can cause problems [like] cysts in the jaw, infections and pain.”

If your wisdom teeth are not causing you any problems, you may want to think about leaving them where they are. Research out of Japan shows that the pulp inside your molars contains stem cells similar to those found in bone marrow. Some experts say that banking those stem cells could lead to the ability to regrow teeth in the future.