Flu Scan for Jun 22, 2017

Autism, flu, and pregnancy
H5N8 in South Africa
Flu naming and risk perceptions

Study finds no link between flu in pregnancy, autism in babies

Researchers have found no elevated risk of autism in babies born to woman in Norway infected with influenza during pregnancy, a study yesterday in mSphere reported.

Scientists from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health analyzed questionnaires and blood samples from 338 mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 348 matched controls as part of the Autism Birth Cohort Study, a prospective birth cohort in Norway. They collected blood samples from the women at mid-pregnancy and after delivery, and the mothers also reported their cold and flu symptoms during pregnancy.

Neither influenza A or B was associated with an increased risk of ASD. When the researchers integrated reports of symptoms of influenza-like illness with serology they estimated an increase in risk for influenza-seropositive women who had symptoms, but this increase did not achieve statistical significance.

The study is the first to assess the risk for ASD based on lab-verified maternal flu and not just on survey data or medical records, according to a Columbia University press release.

"Symptoms are important because they may indicate the extent to which the mother's immune system is fighting the flu," said first author Milada Mahic, PhD, a research scientist, in the release. "If infection is contributing to increased risk [of ASD], it likely comes from inflammation related to maternal immune system response rather than the flu infection itself. Further research is warranted."
Jun 21 mSphere study
Jun 21 Columbia University news release


South Africa reports it first H5N8 avian flu outbreak

South Africa today reported its first highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu outbreak, becoming the eighth African nation to detect the virus. According to a notification from government officials to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the event began on Jun 19 at a commercial broiler-breeder farm Mpumalanga province in the country's eastern region.

The virus killed 5,000 of 24,000 susceptible birds, and authorities are culling the surviving ones to curb the spread of the outbreak. Other measures include quarantine, establishing a surveillance zone, and disinfecting the facility.

Two other African nations—the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe—reported their first H5N8 outbreaks over the past few weeks. Other African countries affected by the virus over the past several months are Cameroon, Niger, Nigeria, Tunisia, and Uganda.
Jun 22 OIE report on H5N8 in South Africa

In other H5N8 developments, Belgium reported three more outbreaks, according to separate reports to the OIE. One began on Jun 20 at a location in West Flanders province where a trader raises birds intended for hobbyists. All 972 birds were culled, and officials said the source of the virus was introduction of new live animals and fomites such as humans, vehicles, or feed.

The other two outbreaks also began on Jun 20 and involved birds not classified as poultry, which could mean wild birds or those at zoos or park reserves. Affected locations were Hainaut and Namur provinces in the west. Between the two events, the virus killed 57 of 167 birds.
Jun 21 OIE report on H5N8 in Belgian hobby birds
Jun 21 OIE report on H5N8 in Belgian nonpoultry


Survey finds words, graphics shape flu perceptions, intent to vaccinate

Flu threats involving strains having more exotic names, compared with scientific and animal-origin nomenclature, were more likely to raise concerns and motivate people to be vaccinated, according to survey findings published yesterday in Emerging Infectious Diseases.

A team from three American universities and their collaborators in the Netherlands randomly recruited adults from the United States and 10 European countries and asked them to read a mock news article from a health organization about the spread of a pandemic strain in their country, which contained information about symptoms, severity, and vaccine development. They tested three different versions of the materials, each with a different hypothetical influenza name: H11N3, "horse flu," or Yarraman flu. The latter is the Australian aboriginal name for horse.

Based on responses from 16,510 participants, the team found that the exotic-sounding and scientific names elicited greater worry and intent to vaccinate than did the strain named after an animal reservoir.

As part of the survey, the same group also examined perceptions of graphics that depict the spread of infectious diseases. Heat maps showing hot spots were more likely to generate concern than bar graphs or dot maps. The researchers had reported the graphics findings Jun 12 in Vaccine.

Taken together, the findings suggest that the way health information is communicated matters.

Angie Fagerlin, PhD, a study coauthor and chair of population health sciences at University of Utah Health, said in a press release from the school, "Our results highlight that choices for public communications about health issues cannot be made simply by convenience or without consideration. If we can present information in ways that increase the public's understanding, it's a win for everybody."
Jun 21 Emerg Infect Dis report
Jun 12 Vaccine abstract
Jun 21 University of Utah Health press release

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