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Flu drugs may not be worth stockpiling
April 10th, 2014
02:23 PM ET

Flu drugs may not be worth stockpiling

Tamiflu, commonly used to reduce flu symptoms, may not work as well as the federal government believed when it spent more than $1.3 billion stockpiling it.

The Cochrane Collaboration, a nonprofit network of health practitioners, researchers and patient advocates, recently analyzed 46 clinical study reports on Tamiflu and another influenza drug called Relenza to determine their effectiveness.

The researchers concluded that while both drugs can stop adults' symptoms about half a day earlier, on average, than no treatment, the drugs do not reduce the rate of serious influenza complications, such as hospitalizations and pneumonia. The results were published this week in the British Medical Journal.

"A significant number of doctors see them as pretty mediocre drugs that don't do a whole bunch," said Dr. Peter Doshi, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and associate editor at BMJ.
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Best ways to prevent and treat the common cold
January 27th, 2014
01:59 PM ET

Best ways to prevent and treat the common cold

Although the world of medicine has made incredible progress when it comes to tackling certain illnesses, scientists still have not been able to find the cure for the common cold. But there are ways to prevent colds as well as treat them. The question is, which are the most effective?

According to a review in the recent edition of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, hand washing and possibly taking zinc seem to be the best ways to avoid getting sick. Investigators reviewed 67 randomized controlled trials that showed hand washing as well as alcohol disinfectants are the best ways to ward off colds.

Zinc was found to work mostly in children, with two trials showing that little ones who took 10 to 12 milligrams of zinc sulfate every day had fewer colds and fewer absences from school because of colds. Authors of the study suggest that zinc could work for adults. Vitamin C, the "gold standard" of cold fighters, did not seem as effective.

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Flu vaccine may work better in women, study suggests
December 23rd, 2013
04:18 PM ET

Flu vaccine may work better in women, study suggests

While some may consider women “the fairer sex,” science says otherwise.

It’s been known that women, in general, have stronger immune systems. Researchers say males have more bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic reactions than females, as well as more severe reactions, and women have a "more robust response to antigenic challenges such as infection and vaccination," according to a new study published Monday.

Why women have stronger immune reactions hasn't always been clear. But the new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds it may have something to do with testosterone. FULL POST


Flu activity increasing; CDC urges vaccinations
December 12th, 2013
12:49 PM ET

Flu activity increasing; CDC urges vaccinations

Last year's flu season was one of the worst in recent memory, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden said Thursday, and although this season is off to a slower start, people should still get flu vaccines.

"Last year was a relatively severe season," Frieden said, noting that 381,000 people were hospitalized, and 169 children died from the flu.  "This is higher than we've seen in many flu seasons."

The good news, Frieden said, is that the flu vaccine prevented millions of illnesses. "We estimate that during last year's flu season, flu vaccination prevented 6.6 million people from getting sick with the flu, 3.2 million from going to see a doctor and at least 79,000 hospitalizations."  FULL POST


Flu under the microscope
October 17th, 2013
05:32 PM ET

CDC back at work to track the flu

Update 10/18 3:30 p.m.: The CDC has released an abbreviated FluView report for the week ending in October 12. See it here

Published 10/17: Now that the U.S. government shutdown is over, federal workers are returning to work, including the furloughed doctors and epidemiologists who work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

One of the many things the CDC does is keep track of the flu, something that was stopped on October 1, leaving the overall flu picture in the United States a little murky.

Every Friday, the CDC is supposed to post how many cases of flu have been reported in the 50 states and U.S. territories. But during the shutdown, the CDC said on its website that it would "not be routinely analyzing surveillance data nor testing laboratory specimens submitted as part of routine surveillance."

So the most recent weekly CDC report provides data for the week of September 21. Under normal circumstances, the CDC would be posting data tomorrow from the week ending October 12 (they are always one week behind).  But since their staff is just now returning to work, it's likely the FluView reports will probably resume next Friday, a CDC spokesperson said.
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Bird flu research resumes - but not in U.S.
January 23rd, 2013
01:00 PM ET

Bird flu research resumes - but not in U.S.

Drama surrounding research on the deadly H5N1 avian flu continues, as 40 scientists urge work on the virus to continue in countries that have established guidelines on the safety and aims of the research.  The United States is not among them.

This new correspondence, a letter from researchers published Wednesday in the journals Science and Nature, comes after a "voluntary pause" in the research, which scientists announced in January 2012.

"We declared a pause to this important research to provide time to explain the public-health benefits of this work, to describe the measures in place to minimize possible risks, and to enable organizations and governments around the world to review their policies (for example on biosafety, biosecurity, oversight, and communication) regarding these experiments," the letter states.

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Reindeer noses: Really red?
A pink coloration can be seen on this reindeer's nose.
December 24th, 2012
06:53 AM ET

Reindeer noses: Really red?

Ho ho ho, here's some Christmas-themed science!

The British Medical Journal's Christmas issue this month features a study about reindeer that treats a fantastical idea with some medical reality. The result is a lesson in how reindeer noses compare to the noses of humans and what purpose their underlying structures serve.

Can Ince, a professor who works in intensive care medicine at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, studies microcirculation, or how the smallest blood vessels in the body receive blood. Red blood cells go to these vessels to relieve themselves of oxygen, delivering it to the tissues that need it.

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Experts: Flu spreading faster than usual
December 3rd, 2012
02:52 PM ET

Experts: Flu spreading faster than usual

If you haven't received your flu shot yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says now is the time to make sure you're protected. The agency says flu season is ramping up early this year - for the first time in almost a decade.

According to CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden,  H3N2 is the predominant strain this year. It's generally associated with a severe flu season.  "The strains we are seeing suggest this could be a bad flu year," Frieden said. "But this year's vaccine is an excellent match with the influenza that's circulating."
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Getting children ready for flu season
Some children may need two flu shots this year, depending on their age and when they received last year's vaccine.
September 10th, 2012
11:28 AM ET

Getting children ready for flu season

Flu season has officially started and although most influenza cases don’t begin to pop up till late October, doctors say September is a perfect time to get vaccinated. And that includes getting shots for your youngsters and teens.

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics released its new guidelines on influenza and children. Although there are no major changes, the group stresses  it’s important for parents to talk to their child’s pediatrician about the vaccine.

Over the past few years, the Centers for Disease Control had recommended that children over the age of six months get either a traditional flu shot or a LAIV (live attenuated intranasal vaccine) sprayed in the nose, also known as FluMist. That has not changed. But because of the configuration of this year’s vaccine, the AAP is recommending parents be aware of how many shots their children should have.

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June 21st, 2012
02:00 PM ET

Mutant bird flu would be airborne, scientists say

Here's what it takes to make a deadly virus transmissible through the air: as few as five genetic mutations, according to a new study.

This research, published in the journal Science, is the second of two controversial studies to finally be released that examines how the H5N1 bird flu virus can be genetically altered and transmitted in mammals. Publication of both studies had been delayed many months due to fears that the research could be misused and become a bio-security threat.

Although these particular engineered forms of H5N1 have not been found in nature, the virus has potential to mutate enough such that it could become airborne.

H5N1 influenza can be deadly to people, but in its natural forms it does not easily transfer between people through respiratory droplets, as far as scientists know. The World Health Organization has recorded 355 humans deaths from it out of 602 cases, although some research has questioned this high mortality rate.

The journals Science and Nature had agreed to postpone the publication of the two studies related to the genetically altered virus.

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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