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.

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.

Dealing with a Difficult Colleague in the Medical Field

Working in the medical field is full of stress-causing factors, including having an obnoxious colleague who’s difficult to work with. Dealing with someone like this on a regular basis can really add to the stress in your workplace. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. Consider the following tips on dealing with difficult colleagues in the medical field.

Image result for Dealing with a Difficult Colleague in the Medical Field

  1. You can’t expect instant change.

An individual can take months or even years to develop an attitude, which means it will also take a long time to change for the better. Simply telling your colleague to change is like telling them to change their personality then and there. Not only is that impossible, but it can also have the opposite effect and cause them to be more obnoxious or even openly hostile towards you.

  1. Remember that it’s not your fault.

Nobody decides to be obnoxious towards people on a whim. Remember that whatever’s causing your colleague’s attitude could be anything from issues with their household, personal health, or even finances. Never take their attitude personally since it also encourages you to harbor negative feelings towards them (and yourself).

  1. Hear them out

It may seem like avoiding a colleague with a bad attitude altogether is a good idea, but it only reinforces a bad relationship between you two. There are some times when it’s easier to tolerate people with a bad attitude if you understand why they act that way. Hear them out; ask them why they act that way. They don’t have to open up to you, but letting them know you want to understand them can help ease the situation.

  1. Set your limits

While forcing them to change is out of the question, you still have the final say on what offends you and what doesn’t. Be honest with your colleague about what you will not tolerate, but say it in a respectful manner. For example, telling your colleague “I’d appreciate it if you don’t make fun of my hobbies,” sounds a lot better than “Shut up about my hobbies!”

  1. Don’t retaliate

It might be tempting to get back at an obnoxious colleague, but retaliation is easily one of the worst things you can do. Instead of “teaching them a lesson”, you’ll more likely end up with a more hostile attitude towards you and it can be even more difficult to get back on good terms with them.

  1. Stay safe

While most displays of negative attitude don’t really mean much, do stay vigilant in case it takes a turn for the worse. If your colleague issued threats – especially those involving physical violence or sexual harassment – don’t hesitate to let the higher ups know what’s up.

The medical field is all about bringing good health to other people, but it can still take a toll on your own mind and body. Keeping healthy relationships with the people you’re working with and resolving conflicts before they get out of hand encourages everyone to have each other’s backs even during stressful times.

French Baby Death Linked To Vitamin Dose

France has acted to suspend the sale of a vitamin D supplement after the death of a newborn baby who suffocated hours after being given it.

The 10-day-old baby had been given a dose of Uvesterol D, widely given to French children under the age of five to prevent vitamin D deficiency.

France’s medical safety agency said there was a “probable link” to that particular supplement.

But officials said there were many other products that could be used.

Health Minister Marisol Touraine said children were not in danger by taking vitamin D supplements in general as “it’s the specific way the product is administered that poses risks”. She promised parents “transparent, objective and reliable information.”

In a statement (in French), the national medical safety agency (ANSM) said “only Uvesterol D administered with a pipette is involved”. The product is not sold in the UK.

The baby died at home on 21 December, apparently after being given a dose of the substance orally through a plastic pipette. It showed immediate signs of suffocation before dying two hours later of cardio-respiratory arrest.

News of the baby’s death was not disclosed by France’s health authorities immediately but emerged in French media on Monday.

ANSM said that in 2006 it had imposed measures to reduce risks from taking Uvesterol D after adverse effects became known. However, until December there had been no deaths since it went on the market in 1990, it added.

French daily Le Monde has revealed that Uvesterol D has for years been at the centre of fears over how it has been ingested, with several cases documented of serious illness. The paper cited the oily nature of the substance as being different from other types of liquid vitamin D.

The supplement’s producer Crinex changed the pipette in 2006 to prevent the liquid being administered too quickly.

Then, in 2013, the medical safety agency urged parents to give the supplement drip-by-drip before feeding and ensure the baby was in a semi-sitting position. It also reduced the recommended dosage.

In 2014, health journal Prescire called for an end to the use of Uvesterol vitamin supplements for newborn babies, complaining of half-measures and procrastination from both the company and the medical safety agency.