NEWS SCAN: Polio travel alert, smallpox vaccine, predicting flu spread

May 17, 2010

CDC issues polio travel advisory for Tajikistan, Uzbekistan
Because of polio outbreaks in Tajikistan and neighboring Uzbekistan, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned people traveling to the areas to ensure that polio vaccination is current for both adults and accompanying children. In a May 14 statement, the CDC said Tajikistan's health ministry has reported 120 cases of acute flaccid paralysis, a common sign of polio, most of them in children younger than 5. The Uzbekistan border area has also reported several cases of acute flaccid paralysis. Polio typically spreads through contact with the stool of an infected person, as well as in food and water. The CDC also advised travelers to follow safe food and water practices and to follow good hygiene practices. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently issued a warning about the polio outbreaks, noting that the cases represent the first importation of polio into any of its European Region countries (an area that includes some Asian nations) since the area was certified polio-free in 2002.
May 14 CDC travel advisory
Apr 29 WHO alert on polio in Tajikistan

Company delivers modified smallpox vaccine to US stockpile
Danish biotechnology company Bavarian Nordic today announced that it has begun delivery of its next-generation smallpox vaccine Imvamune to the US Strategic National Stockpile. The vaccine is targeted to people who have weakened immune systems who shouldn't receive the conventional vaccine, which is made with a live vaccinia virus that can cause rare but potentially life-threatening side effects. Imvamune contains a weakened form of the virus that can't replicate in humans. The government has stockpiled enough of the conventional vaccine to protect the US population in the event of a smallpox bioterror attack. The new vaccine was developed and produced with funds from Biomedical Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In other developments, the WHO today marked the 30-year anniversary of the eradication of smallpox, the first disease fought with a global approach. The agency posted photo galleries relating to its smallpox eradication program, which ran from 1966 to 1980, and said it is digitizing written archives that it will publish online.
May 17 Bavarian Nordic press release
WHO smallpox eradication background information

Google Flu Trends' estimates a bit off
The popular symptom-tracking Google Flu Trends application is not as accurate at estimating rates of lab-confirmed influenza as CDS national surveillance programs, according to a study presented at the American Thoracic Society conference being held in New Orleans. When comparing Google Flu Trends data with CDC data from 2003 to 2008, researchers found that "Google Flu Trends was 25% less accurate at estimating rates of laboratory-confirmed influenza virus infection," said lead author Justin Ortiz, MD. Google Flu Trends uses the popularity of certain Google search queries to very quickly estimate nationwide rates of influenza-like illness (ILI) activity, a non-specific combination of symptoms that includes fever with either a cough or a sore throat. However, non-flu disease can cause ILI 30% to 80% of the time during a typical influenza season.
May 17 American Thoracic Society press release

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