AC Alert for February 27, 2012 Mixed Signals on Flu Threat

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 1:40pm

CONTENT: Newsletter

There are a whole lot of people in major portions of the USA mainland still waiting for the brrrr days of winter to arrive...even as we enter the wild month of March. On the heels of two very tough winters along the eastern Atlantic coast, residents in places such as Philadelphia, New York and Boston have caught a major break from Mother Nature this season.

Last time we checked, the snowfall total in the Big Apple (NYC) was running around 7 inches for this winter, compared with over 55 inches at the same time last year. Along with minimal snow, temperatures have been running way above normal. While we don’t hear too many people complaining -- other than ski resort owners and private and city snow plow operators about missing dollars --  the impact this very mild winter of 2012 is having on the flu season is open to debate.

Clearly, it has not been a bad year for the flu so far. Are we out of the woods? Maybe, maybe not. Just this week, the Centers for Disease Control -- CDC --issued a rather alarming paper suggesting that an outbreak of a current strain of swine flu had the potential to become a pandemic across the country. Yet, so far, this strain of the flu hasn’t taken off and officials can’t quite figure out why.

Reports The Chicago Tribune:  “A paper published by scientists at theCenters for Disease Control suggests a new swine flu virus has the potential to cause an outbreak. The H3N2 swine flu strain has shown the potential for human-to-human transmission. According to the paper, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the H3N2 strains (“subtype”) resemble viruses with pandemic potential.

“Terrence Tumpey, one of the authors of the study, says the current seasonal flu vaccine won't protect against this swine flu strain, although he says the CDC is working on creating a vaccine for swine flu variants such as the one he studied.

“In November, the CDC suggested that limited human-to-human transmission of H3N2 had occurred in Iowa, but the most recent findings show that the virus is more easily transmissible than originally thought, leading the authors to warn that swine-origin H3N2 viruses have the potential to cause additional human disease. Since August, people in at least five states -- Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Pennsylvania and West Virginia -- have caught the strain.”

The authors of the journal paper warn that people born after the mid-1990s may be particularly susceptible to infection because of a virus that circulated in the early part of that decade that may have given some people a low level of protection.

The CDC has no reports of flu infection since December 2011 -- which has scientists baffled. From mid-August to late December 2011, the CDC received only 12 reports of human infections from H3N2. But we all should be on the alert – journal author Tumpey said that the CDC study underscores the need for continued public health surveillance. (Source: Chicago Tribune)

Bottom line: The flu season remains upon us in the northern climates. Mysterious flu bugs have been around for many decades, and at times serious pandemics have flared, with global consequences.  The CDC paper, along with the real time incidents of flu so far this season, demonstrates how much we still don’t know about the flu and its ability to spread among humans.

Clearly, we are still in the learning stage about this potential health threat, which is why AC editors maintain a special Hot Topics Section on Pandemic Flu. Although the issue is being largely ignored by mainstream media we intend to keep this potentially major health threat in sharp focus.

Here are some recent excerpts from our Pandemic Flu Hot Topic Section:

Study: Bird flu more common but looks less deadly
(Source: USA Today) Bird flu may be less deadly than supposed, based on blood serum evidence of many past mild infections in Asia. Based on a review of about 600 cases, the World Health Organization estimated that the virus strain kills more than half its victims. That death rate looks overstated, according to a recent study released by the journal Science.

Avian flu controversy comes to roost at WHO
(Source: Almost two dozen experts kicked off a two-day international meeting at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, in a bid to find ways to move forward in the controversy over two studies that have created strains of the H5N1 avian flu virus that are transmissible in ferrets.

For now, bird flu papers won’t be published
(Source: The Washington Post) Two studies showing how scientists mutated the H5N1 bird flu virus into a form that could cause a deadly human pandemic will be published only after experts fully assess the risks. Speaking after a high-level meeting of flu experts and U.S. security officials in Geneva, a World Health Organization official said a deal had been reached in principle to keep details of the controversial work secret until deeper risk analyses could be carried out.

H5N1, not seasonal flu, targeted human pulmonary endothelial cells
(Source: Pediatric Supersite) The H5N1 virus — but not seasonal influenza viruses — targets human pulmonary endothelium cells, where it induces inflammation often associated with H5N1-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome, according to study results published in the Journal of Virology.

Scientists Take Cautious Tack On Bird Flu Research
(Source: NPR) Last month, scientists around the world agreed to temporarily halt certain genetic experiments with bird flu viruses. More than three weeks of that 60-day moratorium have already passed and the scientific community is in the midst of a fierce debate about what needs to happen next. The suspension of the research came in response to fears that researchers had created dangerous new germs that could cause a devastating pandemic in people if they ever escaped the lab or fell into the wrong hands.

Details of secret experiments on deadly man-made bird flu that kills over half of the people it infects will get out, says bioterrorism watchdog
(Source: Mail online) Details of secret experiments by scientists who have created the most deadly form of bird flu in the lab will inevitably be leaked, potentially into the hands of terrorists. Controversy erupted in December over the decision by the U.S National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity(NSABB) to censor details of the virus being made public, which can be transmitted by coughs and sneezes. But now Professor Paul Keim, the head of that board claims they will enter the public domain anyway.


Study of deadly flu sparks debate amidst fears of new pandemic
(Source: Ars Technica) The 2009 flu pandemic, although not especially deadly, revealed just how quickly a new influenza virus could elude surveillance and spread internationally. It also left health experts eying the disease that many fear could cause the next pandemic: H5N1, the avian flu.

According to World Health Organization standards, that virus is phenomenally deadly, killing about half the people that contract it. So far, however, almost all the known cases came from people who were in direct contact with poultry; the flu doesn't seem to spread among mammals.  A major unanswered question was whether H5N1's limited transmission was valid. Recently, some researchers set out to answer that question, and came up with a disturbing answer: it was relatively easy to evolve a form of H5N1 that spread in ferrets, another mammalian species, without it losing any of its virulence. Two labs identified the exact mutations that enabled this new host range, and were preparing to publish their findings.

There remains a potential for both economic and social disruption from a pandemic flu that could cause severe economic distress and social upheaval.  Good governance and accountability calls for proper preparation and effective response, including oversight and proactive steps by government agencies, educational institutions, the business community and families and individuals.

AC's Hot Topic Pandemic Flu section will continue to present research and commentary on the threat along with the latest news on what is happening around the nation and the world, even as the warmer winds of spring are blowing now across snow-less land!

This is just a sampling of the information in our Alert. Go here for the full text of this alert, and more information on Sustainability, and other Accountability related topics.



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CONTENT: Newsletter