NEWS SCAN: World-wide flu activity low, H5N1 vaccine, texting flu messages, fewer veterinarians may affect food safety

Nov 5, 2010

Flu levels stay low or drop in most parts of the world
Flu activity in the United States remained at low levels last week, with levels remaining below baselines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today in its latest surveillance update. Only 1.4% of specimens tested by the CDC and collaborating labs were positive for influenza. The US Virgin Islands reported regional activity, with Guam and Hawaii reporting local activity. The rest of the country reported sporadic or no flu activity. One pediatric death was reported, in a child from Georgia whose death was related to an unsubtyped influenza A virus last flu season. Yesterday the CDC issued a global flu update that said flu activity is low in the Northern Hemisphere's temperate climates, with levels decreasing in northern and southern China. Flu levels in the Southern Hemisphere's temperate climates dropped, especially in Central American and Caribbean nations. Influenza B has become dominant in some areas where H3N2 recently dominated, such as Cuba, Jamaica, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Nov 5 CDC flu surveillance report
Nov 4 CDC global flu update

H5N1 vaccine shows good immune response in adults
A phase 3 trial of 550 adults found that an H5N1 influenza (avian flu) vaccine produced a strong immune response in adults, including those older than 60. The vaccine also produced a cross-reactive response to seasonal H1N1 strains but not seasonal A/H3N2 or B strains. Researchers gave the adults two doses 21 days apart of a Vero cell whole-virus vaccine without adjuvant. The researchers report, "The vaccine significantly increased the number of H5N1 specific and H5 haemagglutinin specific memory B cells, 6 months after the primary immunization." The immune response was not statistically different among those younger than 60, compared with the older cohort. The authors state that the vaccine "is capable of producing a good cross-clade cellular immune response," adding that "This is especially important since the clade from which a pandemic H5N1 strain will emerge in the future, if it does occur, will be difficult to predict."
Nov 4 Vaccine abstract

Text messages may encourage flu vaccine dialogue in pregnant women
Focus-group surveys of 40 pregnant women in New York City revealed that receiving educational text messages about influenza could help initiate a discuss about vaccination with their healthcare providers, according to a study in Preventive Medicine. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 35, and most were Hispanic (85%), had other children (70%), and were publicly insured (78%). Almost half had received either the H1N1 or seasonal vaccine in the 2009-10 flu season. They cited barriers to receiving the vaccine, such as concerns over vaccine safety and efficacy and lack of physician recommendation, but they responded well in the focus groups to text messages sent to their cell phones. They preferred messages to be both concise and personalized and to come from their healthcare provider. Most reported that messages regarding vaccine safety or benefits would not directly change their beliefs, but they said such messages would encourage them to discuss the vaccine with their providers during prenatal visits.
Nov 1 Prev Med abstract

Food safety may suffer as fewer veterinarians work with large animals
As the number of large-animal veterinarians declines and fewer vet students choose to work with farm animals, scientists are concerned that food safety might suffer, according to a USA Today story today. Large-animal veterinarians are "basically on the front line when it comes to maintaining a safe food supply," said David Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). But a recent AVMA survey found that only 2% of veterinary students graduating this year plan to work mostly with large, non-pet animals. Another 7% will focus an all types of animals, but most of those will tilt more toward pet care. "Now we know how big the problem is and how that will magnify over the years," Kirkpatrick said. From 1998 to 2009, the number of small-animal vets rose from 30,255 to 47,118, while the number of farm-animal vets dropped from 5,533 to 5,040, according to the story. In addition, veterinarians caring for large animals are aging, with half of them older than 50 and only 4.4% younger than 30. Large-animal vets earn less, too—an average of $57,745 annually compared with $64,744 for small-animal veterinarians.
Nov 5 USA Today story

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