Flu Scan for Jan 14, 2014

Adult flu vaccine coverage
Flu predictions on the Web
Flu-shot texts

TFAH calls for boosting flu vaccine coverage in adults

With the flu season hitting its stride and the 2009 H1N1 virus spreading, the public health advocacy group Trust for America's Health today called for greater efforts to increase flu vaccine coverage, saying only 35.7% of working-age adults were vaccinated last season.

"The trend of low vaccination rates among younger adults is particularly troubling this year, when they are more at risk than usual for the effects of the H1N1 strain of flu that's circulating," Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, said in a press release. The 2009 H1N1 virus is the dominant US strain this season.

TFAH said overall flu vaccination rates remain low in the United States, though coverage in children and the elderly is better than in working-age adults. Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the group said 45% of Americans got a flu shot for the 2012-13 season, which was an increase from 41.8% in 2011-12.

Vaccination coverage last season was highest in Massachusetts, at 57.5%, and lowest in Florida, at 34.1%, TFAH reported. Only 12 states had 50% coverage or better: Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

The group recommended a number of steps to increase flu vaccine uptake, including supporting flu shots without copays for all Americans and requiring vaccination for all healthcare workers.

In other comments, TFAH said federal flu spending is slated to increase under a budget agreement reached by negotiators in the US House and Senate yesterday. The omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2014 allocates $156.7 million for flu planning and response, about a $6.6 million increase over last year, but $2.2 million lower than in 2012, the group said.

Also, the bill allocates $115 million for pandemic flu preparedness, which hadn't been funded since fiscal 2011, TFAH reported.
Jan 14 TFAH press release
Jan 14 TFAH full report
Dec 12, 2013, CIDRAP News story on flu vaccine impact and coverage
CDC FluVaxView page with vaccine uptake data


New Columbia Mailman Web site forecasts flu trends by city

A flu-forecasting Web site developed by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York may help consumers take extra precautions to guard against the illness and may inform the public health sector on such decisions as vaccine and antiviral stockpiling and distribution, according to a Mailman news release yesterday.

"For the first time, people can see the outlook for seasonal flu in their area by going online," Mailman assistant professor Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, said in the release.

The site, called the Columbia Prediction of Infectious Diseases: Influenza Forecasts, or CPID (www.cpid.iri.columbia.edu), tracks influenza in 94 US cities and forecasts rates of seasonal flu in upcoming weeks "based on a scientifically validated system," according to the story. Updated every Friday afternoon during the flu season, it includes an interactive map, comparison charts of the four most recent flu seasons, and exportable data.

Among current predictions are these:

  • Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Nevada have already seen the peak of flu cases
  • The current season will peak later and with fewer cases than the 2012-13 season but will be far more severe than the 2011-12 season
  • Cases in most of the cities tracked will peak in January (eg, Chicago, Jan 12 to 18; New York, Jan 19 to 25), but in several, including Miami and Providence, R.I., the worst will come in February (Feb 2 through 8 and Feb 16 through 22, respectively)

Jan 13 Columbia Mailman news release


Study: Text messages may boost flu vaccine uptake in pregnant women

Text messages provide an effective means of reminding urban, low-income pregnant women to get their flu shots, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The authors, primarily from Columbia University, enrolled 1,187 obstetric patients from five New York community-based clinics in their randomized controlled trial during the 2011-12 flu season. Women were eligible if they had a first trimester visit between Feb 1 and Aug 31, 2011, had an estimated delivery date after Aug 31, and had a cell phone capable of receiving text messages. Messages were sent in English or Spanish, depending on patient preference.

Patients were randomized to receive five weekly text messages about flu vaccination beginning in mid September 2011 and two appointment reminder texts or to receive "usual" care. Messages were stopped after vaccination. Standard, automated appointment-reminder phone messages were sent to both groups.

After adjusting for gestational age and number of clinic visits, the women in the text-message group were 30% more likely to have been vaccinated by December 2011, with those early in the third trimester at the start of the intervention most likely to have been affected by the messages (61.9% versus 49.0% for the controls).

Pregnant women, while constituting only 1% of the population, are at increased risk for flu morbidity and mortality, note the authors.
February Am J Public Health abstract

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