July 30th, 2010
02:49 PM ET

New flu vaccine is on the way

Anyone looking for protection against the seasonal flu may soon find it available at a doctor's office or nearby clinic.  Manufacturers have begun to ship the 2010/2011 seasonal flu shots and sprays.

Glaxo SmithKline, Sanofi-Pasteur, Novartis and MedImmune (maker of the flu spray FluMist) have announced that their flu vaccines are being shipped to distributors.

In the end, 155 million doses of flu shots and sprays should be available for the upcoming flu season, if all goes well with the manufacturing process.  On Friday, Sanofi Pasteur announced that the first of more than 70 million doses of vaccine have been shipped and GSK plans to supply more than 30 million doses of vaccine.  Novartis said Thurday that  it plans to ship about 40 million flu shots and MedImmune began shipping  it's first of 15 million sprays on July 21.

June 25th, 2010
09:54 AM ET

Kids may need 2 H1N1 doses again this year

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical News Managing Editor

Children over 6 months and under 9 years old who haven't received an H1N1 vaccine yet can expect to get two doses of seasonal flu vaccine this fall, if the Centers for Disease Control adopts recommendations from its vaccine advisory committee.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted to add this recommendation to the usual seasonal flu rules at a regularly scheduled meeting in Atlanta on Thursday.


June 17th, 2010
11:55 AM ET

Should pregnant women be medical test subjects?

By Stephanie Smith
CNN Medical Producer

Citing high death rates among pregnant women during the recent H1N1 flu pandemic, researchers spelled out what they believe is an urgent need to perform clinical testing in that group, according an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers called pregnant women "therapeutic orphans" because of their virtual exclusion from medical research.

"The importance of studying subpopulations that have previously been excluded from research is undeniable," wrote the authors. "Ironically, the effort to protect the fetus from research-related risks by excluding pregnant women from research places both women and their fetuses at great risk..." FULL POST

June 3rd, 2010
12:27 PM ET

WHO: H1N1 not gone yet

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

You may have forgotten about the virus formerly known as swine flu, but it hasn't gone away, according to the World Health Organization.

The agency is continuing its pandemic alert for 2009 H1N1 influenza, WHO chief Margaret Chan announced Thursday in a statement. There are still world regions, particularly in tropical regions such as the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, that have relatively low level of resurgence of cases.

But "the period of most intense pandemic activity appears likely to have passed for many parts of the world," the statement said.

In July, a WHO committee will meet again to reassess the situation.

Read the full statement from the World Health Organization.

Here's a retrospective on the H1N1 flu on its one-year anniversary

May 18th, 2010
05:47 PM ET

How accurate is Google Flu Trends?

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

An Internet tool called Google Flu Trends launched in November 2008 with a lot of enthusiasm (although it was not called "Flugle" as I'd hoped). It promised to predict flu outbreaks based on the abundance of people searching for flu-related items on Google search engine.

But a new study questions its accuracy. Researchers at the University of Washington put Google Flu Trends to the ultimate test: comparing its estimates against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national surveillance programs.

Google Flu Trends results have been shown to be mostly accurate in estimating influenza-like illness, but it had not been evaluated against laboratory tests for confirmed influenza virus, Dr. Justin Ortiz of the University of Washington, who led the study, said in a statement. He presented the findings at the American Thoracic Society meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Web tool is 25 percent less accurate than the CDC at estimating rates of influenza virus infection confirmed with laboratory testing, the research said. For flu-like illness it is robust, however; previous research showed a 92 percent correlation between Google and CDC for the 2008-2009 season, said Jamie Yood, spokesman for Google Flu Trends.

For Google, these findings are not surprising, Yood said. The system was modeled after flu-like illness data, not laboratory-confirmed cases.

That makes sense because flu-like illness isn't always caused by influenza - in fact, only 20 to 70 percent of flu-like illness cases during the flu season are actually influenza, Ortiz said. But the average Google users aren't likely to have a lab test before punching words like "aches" and "fever" into Google, perhaps to see what the diagnosis would be.

"For them, in a way, it doesn’t matter if it actually technically is influenza or not, it’s more or less the same ailment," Yood said.

Media attention to the flu may skew the results for Google Flu Trends, as evidenced by the deviation in Google vs. CDC data in the 2003-4 season, Ortiz said. That influenza season had early and intense flu activity, and substantial media coverage.

But Google Flu Trends does deliver information about flu activity in a fast and cheap way, and provides a good public health service, Ortiz noted. For individuals, knowing about flu activity may help remind people to get flu shots and take other simple precautions, Yood said.

Google Flu Trends is always trying to improve the model, but not because of this study, Yood said. The search engine gurus are working on expanding geographic areas for flu predictions and on improving granularity.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

April 12th, 2010
10:40 AM ET

Committee begins scrutinizing WHO’s response to H1N1

by Madison Park
CNNhealth.com writer/producer

Health experts convening in Geneva, Switzerland, began its review of the World Health Organization’s response to the 2009 H1N1 flu virus Monday.

The committee will examine the ongoing global response to the pandemic H1N1 and to identify lessons learned about preparedness and response for future pandemics and public health emergencies.  The review committee is made of 29 experts in various aspects of public health, science and infectious diseases.

The WHO has been criticized for its handling of the pandemic with accusations that it exaggerated the flu’s threat after the virus spread globally last April.

“We want a frank and critical assessment,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO’s director general.  “WHO is not defining or restricting the scope of specific issues that may arise. If our member states have questions or concerns, we want to hear these questions and concerns raised.”  Her statement.

The review committee is expected to submit a preliminary report to the World Health Assembly in May.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

February 22nd, 2010
05:44 PM ET

2009 H1N1 flu strain will be in next season flu vaccine

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical News Managing Editor

The 2009 H1N1 flu virus, which has been circulating since last spring, sickened millions and killed at least 15,000 people worldwide, will be included in the next seasonal flu vaccine when it becomes available in the fall, health experts in the United States decided Monday.

Every February, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee advises the Food and Drug Administration on which flu strains to include in the next flu shot or spray.

The committee is following the recommendations of the World Health Organization, Dr. Jerry Weir, the FDA's director of the Division of Viral Products, told CNN.

"This is the same process we go through every year," Weir explained. The selection is made early in the year to give flu manufacturers enough time to make enough vaccine by September or October, when health officials recommend people get vaccinated. Pharmaceutical companies need so much lead time because it's takes a long time to grow vaccines in eggs, currently the only licensed method for making flu vaccines.

"The new H1N1 strain didn't exist last February," said Weir, which is why health officials couldn't consider it for the flu vaccine for the current flu season. Once it was determined that this new type of H1N1 flu strain was circulating around the country and the world, flu manufacturers were asked to develop an additional flu vaccine to fight this virus.

The most recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that between 41 million and 84 million people in the Unites States have been infected with 2009 H1N1 since last April. The CDC also estimates between 183,000 and 378,000 people were hospitalized and between 8,330 and 17,160 people died from this flu since it emerged.

The agency says its estimate vary widely because not everyone who gets sick goes to the doctor, and not everyone who is hospitalized was tested for this flu and because health officials believe hospitalizations and deaths are under-reported.

The following three virus strains will be included in the 2010/2011 seasonal flu shot:

- an "A California viru," which is the pandemic virus H1N1 virus that caused so much illness in the past 10 months;
- an "A Perth virus," which is an H3N2 virus
- a "B Brisbane virus."

Weir says now that the three specific strains have been selected, manufacturers can now begin producing the new batch of seasonal flu vaccine.

For those concerned about getting the flu now, the CDC continues to recommend getting the separate H1N1 vaccine which is now widely available.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

How we found Patient Zero
December 29th, 2009
02:39 AM ET

How we found Patient Zero

It was late April. I remember it being a somewhat quiet news day when I received the call. It was an editor on our international news desk alerting us that about 100 people had gotten very ill in Mexico City with severe flu-like symptoms.

They had no clue what was causing it at the time. The only thing health officials were telling us was that the patients had contracted a highly contagious virus that hadn’t been seen in humans before. The hunt was on: Dr. Sanjay Gupta and I hopped on the next flight out to Mexico City to track down the mystery virus that was getting so many people so sick.

Within 24 hours of arriving, the dense city of about 8 million people had figuratively turned into a ghost town. The mayor was urging people to stay inside; the hospitals were overcrowded; schools, public transportation, and restaurants closed their doors.

At one point, I remember walking down the unusually empty streets of Mexico City in awe. It was an eerie feeling, but also a defining moment for me as a journalist. I realized that people, not just in Mexico City, were scared of this unknown killer virus.

What was it? Would they be infected? What should they do? We didn't know it at the time, but H1N1 influenza was about to become a global epidemic and the world was already looking to us for answers.

A few days into our reporting on the ground, I received a phone call from CNN's senior executive producer for AC 360, David Doss. He had flagged a local health alert from the state of Veracruz, Mexico - there were unconfirmed reports that a little boy in the village of La Gloria was rumored to be “patient zero,” the earliest documented case of swine flu in the world.

Twenty minutes later, our crew was in the car, embarking on a three hour drive into the mountains of Veracruz to find the answer, the source of this outbreak. We had the wireless going on my laptop, phones to both ears, endlessly contacting our sources to confirm this story. We got it: Health officials confirmed to us that five-year-old Edgar Hernandez was in fact patient zero.

The catch? His village was in a very remote location with no phones, no electricity, no address to pop into our car’s navigation system. We knew finding patient zero would be a little like finding a needle in a haystack.

But as diehard journalists, this was the type of assignment we craved! I couldn’t wait to get there and to shuffle through that haystack. I knew in my gut we’d find him.

We walked around the village, visited their clinics, spoke to the locals. We met one man pulling his donkey up the dusty mountain road and asked him if he knew the Hernandez family. Turns out that man was patient zero’s uncle. He quickly walked us to the Hernandez’s home and we met Edgar, known as patient zero. He was no longer sick; he had survived the swine flu virus. He credits “ice cream” for curing him.

Being only 5 years old, Edgar couldn’t possibly realize the significance of being the first patient of what would be declared a global pandemic just two months later. But his mother certainly did. She feared Edgar could possibly be blamed for spreading it (which he did not) and she feared that their family would get sick again. She told us she didn’t understand what this virus was.

But that is why we were there - to find the source of this illness in order to understand it better. At this point, the CDC and the World Health Organization still didn’t know how the virus was spreading. But by discovering the earliest patients of an outbreak like this, health officials could begin to gather clues as to exactly what happened and, more importantly, how to treat and stop it from spreading.

As a journalist, there have been a few defining moments which I’ve felt I had a front row seat to something really big, to a small piece of history. Finding patient zero was one of the moments.

Follow Danielle on Twitter @DanielleCNN for more behind-the-scenes information and exclusive photos from the field.

December 24th, 2009
09:31 AM ET

How can I get rid of a lingering cough after having H1N1 flu?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Scott, Oregon

“After suffering through the H1N1 flu for almost a week, I feel completely healthy, save for a lingering cough. There is not much if any mucous involved, it's just a sensation that makes me constantly want to clear my throat. I am a healthy 33 year old male with no chronic illness; no allergies and I have never smoked.”


You are not alone, Scott. Persistent, nagging cough is a common complaint among people who contract the H1N1 virus, even healthy non-smokers like you. Some say that the cough lasts for days – sometimes weeks – after other overt symptoms like fever, nausea, fatigue and congestion go away.

It's sort of like having a house guest who has worn out their welcome.

So why does the cough stick around for so long? The H1N1 virus causes inflammation in the respiratory tract, which includes the back of the throat and bronchial tubes that branch out in the lungs. The virus attacks that lung tissue, causing irritation. So although you are not suffering from the flu any longer, irritation in the mucus membranes lining your respiratory tract is still healing, and that is manifesting as a cough you cannot shake.

Unfortunately, the best thing for you to do is wait it out. Your cough could be a bothersome symptom for another two or three weeks, but it should dissipate as your respiratory tract heals. There are some effective cough medicines out there available over the counter, and even stronger ones in prescription form, but the good news: this is likely to get better on its own.

Incidentally, residual cough is common with most flu, including seasonal strains. As long as you are fever-free and otherwise feel well, there is little chance that your cough is spreading the H1N1 virus. The incubation period for H1N1 – the time during which you are most infectious to others – is between one and seven days.

Of course if several weeks go by and the cough has not subsided, you may decide to visit your doctor.

December 18th, 2009
12:09 PM ET

100 million H1N1 vaccine doses available, flu waning in U.S., officials report

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

The Department of Health and Human Resources says as of Friday, December 18, more than 100 million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine will have been made available for states to distribute. This news comes at a time when the so-called swine flu seems to be waning in the United States. It was just a few short weeks ago when the H1N1 flu virus was widespread, in 48 states, and people lined up for hours just to get one of these vaccinations. Now at least four states – Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota and Nebraska – are reporting "no activity" at all. This may lead many to think that the pandemic is over, that there's nothing to worry about any more. However health officials keep reminding us that flu is unpredictable and we're just now entering the earliest part of what is considered the beginning of a normal flu season.

Yesterday, health officials also announced the latest statistics on how many Americans were affected by H1N1. So far 47 million cases have been reported; nearly 213,000 hospitalizations; nearly 10,000 deaths; and five times more pediatric deaths than in a typical flu season.

Eight months after this global pandemic began, World Health Organization officials say that they are frequently asked whether the pandemic is over or another wave should be expected in late winter or early spring. "The answer is right now is that we simply are not able to answer this question," Dr. Keiji Fukuda, special adviser to the WHO's director-general on pandemic influenza, told reporters Thursday. He also said that even if the H1N1 flu seems to have peaked in North America, other countries such as Switzerland, France, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia are seeing high activity.

Perhaps more eye-opening was that Fukuda's announcement that six manufacturers and 12 countries had pledged 180 million doses of H1N1 vaccine, which would go to about 95 countries. The WHO had hoped to distribute these vaccines in late November or December, but that has now slid to sometime in the next few weeks. So the U.S. will have been able to distribute more than half of the number of vaccine doses as the WHO hopes to distribute to 95 different countries, most which couldn't afford to buy them themselves.

The question in the U.S. is, with more vaccine becoming more easily available, but flu activity dramatically down compared with just a month or two ago, will people who haven’t been vaccinated yet or gotten sick still get a flu shot or nasal spray?

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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.