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FDA panel recommends approval of new hepatitis C drug
April 27th, 2011
06:38 PM ET

FDA panel recommends approval of new hepatitis C drug

A new treatment for hepatitis C could soon be on the market if the Food and Drug Administration takes the advice of an advisory committee.  The committee unanimously approved the first of two new drugs to treat chronic hepatitis C genotype 1 infection.  Hepatitis C is a chronic viral disease that causes inflammation and swelling of the liver.

The drug, boceprevir, is a new class of protease inhibitor manufactured by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co., and would be used in combination with ribavirin and peginterferon–the current standard of care. Boceprevir prevents the virus from replicating, and studies show the three-drug cocktail is more effective than the two-drug regimen.

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Flu and You: A weekly perspective
January 7th, 2011
05:24 PM ET

Flu and You: A weekly perspective

With the holidays over, the trickle of students returned to school and employees trudged back to the office, swapping viruses and germs.

But last week,  between December 26, 2010  to January 1, 2011, flu activity decreased slightly compared with the week prior, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were four deaths related to the flu that week, including one pediatric, and 206 reported hospitalizations. Flu-like activity was highest in New York City and the Southern states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.  For more, visit the CDC.


September 9th, 2010
11:38 AM ET

Pediatricians urge mandatory flu vaccine for health workers

Everyone who works in a health care setting should be required get a flu vaccine, according to a policy statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Wednesday.

The AAP says the rate of doctors, nurses, emergency responders and other health care workers who participate in voluntary vaccination campaigns is "unacceptably low."

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September 9th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

How did dengue fever get to the U.S.?

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

From: Rob, Bellport, New York

"Dengue fever in Florida, in a high tourist area. So how did that get here?"

Answer:

Rob, thanks for your question. CNN has reported that cases of dengue fever have been reported this year in Florida, including several among Key West residents.

The simple answer to how dengue fever got to the United States is “mosquitoes.” Dengue fever is spread by mosquitoes infected with one of four dengue viruses. A mosquito becomes infected when it bites a human who is infected with the virus, and then the mosquito spreads the virus to other uninfected humans when it bites them. Dengue cannot be spread from human to human, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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August 26th, 2010
04:47 PM ET

Flu deaths 'a moving target,' CDC says

When it comes to estimating how many people will die annually from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control says averages just don't explain the full picture.

"Flu is really unpredictable," explains Dr. David Shay, a medical officer with the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Flu deaths are a moving target."

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June 28th, 2010
03:52 PM ET

West Nile virus found in California

Jerry Davis spends a lot of time thinking about mosquitoes.  Davis is the manager of the Turlock Mosquito Abatement District in Turlock, California.  The West Nile virus has started showing up in his central California community.  So far, three dead birds have tested positive for the virus.  It's hard to catch Davis in the office.  This is his "busy season."  "It's like Christmas or tax day," he says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999 when West Nile was first discovered in the United States, over 29,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease.  Of  those, more than 12,000 people have been seriously ill.  Just over a thousand people have died.  Here are the three things you need to know about the West Nile virus.

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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


February 25th, 2010
02:33 PM ET

When will we see a herpes cure?

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

From Lloyd Bartley, Bowling Green, Kentucky

“How close are scientists to developing a cure for herpes, figuratively speaking will we be seeing a break through in 10, 20, or even 30 years?”

Answer:

Well, Lloyd, there is good news and bad news on the herpes front. The good news: Researchers have made serious strides and now better understand the mechanism behind herpes outbreaks. The bad news: There is very little funding for that research.

After receiving your question we reached out to a leading herpes expert, Bryan Cullen, the director at the Center for Virology at Duke University. Cullen is hopeful that a cure for herpes could come within 10 years, once funding hurdles are crossed.

Nearly one in five people over age 12 in the U.S. is affected by herpes. It is caused by a virus - either the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or the herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Both strains can cause genital herpes, but HSV-1 usually infects the mouth and produces cold sores.

Despite funding challenges, Cullen and his team are inching closer to a cure. They conducted a study recently that identified the pathway herpes takes as it infects. They now know how herpes embeds itself into the cells and how it eludes treatment. Now that they have honed in on the physiology of the disease - and its triggers - researchers believe they are steps closer to creating drugs that could cure herpes.

While we wait for a cure, there are drugs out there that can at least suppress herpes. Three antiviral drugs: acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir are commonly recommended to quell outbreaks. A physician might recommend taking these drugs when an outbreak occurs to quiet symptoms; or taking them continuously to reduce the likelihood of an outbreak.

And of course the best way to avoid spreading herpes is to abstain from sex, but if you are sexually active, engage in safe-sex practices such as using condoms.

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.


Filed under: Expert Q&A • Sex • Virus

February 18th, 2010
05:21 PM ET

WHO recommends H1N1 be part of next seasonal flu vaccine

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical News Managing Editor

The World Health Organization is recommending that the H1N1 flu virus that’s currently circulating be included in the next seasonal flu vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere.

The WHO meets twice a year to determine which flu strains are the most dominant and chooses three strains to include in the regular flu vaccine.

Based on recommendations from flu experts from around the world, it was decided at the meeting Thursday in Geneva, Switzerland, that the pandemic H1N1 influenza strain go into the vaccine for the coming fall and winter, according to the Special Adviser on Pandemic Influenza to Dr Keiji Fukuda, director-general of the WHO.

The two other flu strains to be included into the next flu shot or flu
spray are an H3N2 virus and a B-virus. Fukuda said that the fact that the new H1N1 flu strain will be included in the next seasonal flu vaccine does not mean that the H1N1 pandemic is over.

He told reporters in a teleconference that parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Northern and Western Africa and parts of Asia are seeing the highest levels of pandemic H1N1 flu activity.

In a meeting in September, the WHO had already recommended that the seasonal flu vaccine for the Southern Hemisphere contain the H1N1 strain.

Fukuda said so far, "over 200 million people have been vaccinated with
the H1N1 vaccine" and the safety profile of the vaccine has been very good.

While the WHO recommends which strains go into the next flu vaccine, it's up to individual countries to decide whether they want to combine all three recommended strains into one shot, or if they want to have each strain in doled out separately. The pandemic H1N1 strain was not included in this year's flu strain because it emerged in April, about two months after the three seasonal flu strains had been selected for the 2009/2010 flu season.

The Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological
Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) is meeting next Monday to decide which flu strains will be included in the next seasonal flu vaccine for the United States.


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.


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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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