H1N1 Vaccine trials have begun

Vaccine trials funded by NIH have now started at several U.S. universities., and representatives from the CDC have said that they expect to have the vaccine ready by October.  Here are some of the things we have learned so far about the vaccine.

  • Five key groups have been identified for vaccination.  These include:
    • Pregnant women
    • Caretakers of young children
    • Healthcare and Emergency personnel
    • People 6 months to 24 years of age
    • People 25-64 who have chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems
  • The government hopes that there will be enough vaccine for everyone, but if there is a shortage at first, then certain groups should get priority.
    • Pregnant women
    • Caretakers of young children
    • Healthcare and Emergency workers with direct patient contact
    • People 6 months to 4 years of age
    • People 5-18 who have chronic health conditions
    • People over age 65 are encouraged to get the seasonal flu vaccine, but are not on the list of people recommended for the swine flu vaccine.
  • The vaccine will be grown in eggs, like the seasonal flu vaccine, so people who are allergic to eggs need to consult a doctor about options.
  • It is likely that people will need to get the swine flu vaccine in three doses.  Some reports have said that the subsequent doses will come 21 days earlier.
  • Vaccine tests are currently being conducted at the University of Maryland Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Emory University, St. Louis University, Seattle Group Health Cooperative, the University of Iowa, Vanderbilt University, Children’s Mercy Hospital and Duke University Medical Center.
  • Some school districts, including the District of Columbia, have announced that they will make vaccines available to students in school, with parental permission.

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The pigs have the flu

Yesterday, Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services, Charles Johnson, declared a state of emergency, due to a recent increase in cases of swine flu (influenza type A H1N1).  The actual language read:

As a consequence of confirmed cases of Swine Influenza A (swH1N1) in California, Texas, Kansas, and New York, on this date and after consultation with public health officials as necessary, I, Charles E. Johnson, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, pursuant to the authority vested in me under section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. § 247d, do hereby determine that a public health emergency exists nationwide involving Swine Influenza A that affects or has significant potential to affect national security.”

My first thought was, “Ha, I’m glad I don’t eat pork,” but of course, that was silly.  Swine flu isn’t transmitted by eating the cooked animal.  Temperatures of at least 160°F kills bacteria and viruses.  According to the CDC, swine flu is spread mostly through contact among pigs and from contaminated objects moving between infected and uninfected groups of pigs.  Flu outbreaks in pigs are fairly common, particularly  during winter.  What’s uncommon, and what we are concerned about now, is humans being infected by swine flu.  As of 1:00 pm today, there were 40 confirmed cases in the U.S. in five states (CA, KS,NY, OH, TX.), with additional cases reported in Mexico and Europe.

While the vaccine for the human version of the flu does not protect against swine flu, the symptoms are the same.  Therefore, people exhibiting a fever, cough, body aches, headaches, fatigue, nasal congestion, vomiting and diarrhea are being encouraged to contact their doctors, particularly if they have been in contact with sick pigs, or people who were in contact with sick pigs.

Prevention is mostly in the hands of farmers and veterinarians, through vaccinations and efforts to control outbreaks.  However, the public is being urged to follow general flu prevention guidelines, such as covering the nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, frequent hand washing and avoiding groups (work, school, etc) when exhibiting symptoms.  Americans are also being urged to avoid nonessential travel to Mexico, where it is believed the current epidemic originated.

Treatment of swine flu includes courses of antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu and Relenza.  Both require a prescription from a physician.  The CDC has released 11 million courses from the strategic national stockpile for  use during this epidemic.

More information is available from the CDC, on their website at www.cdc.gov/swineflu/ or by calling (800) CDC-INFO.

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