Tuesday January 28, 2020

CDC Urges People to Get their Flu Vaccine

Getting vaccinated is going to be the best way to prevent whatever happens

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CDC, Flu, Vaccine
Australia’s flu season started unusually early this year, and already there are more than 144,000 confirmed cases and at least 231 deaths. VOA

The flu forecast is cloudy and it’s too soon to know if the U.S. is in for a third miserable season in a row, but health officials said Thursday not to delay vaccination. CDC.

While the vaccine didn’t offer much protection the past two years, specialists have fine-tuned the recipe in hopes it will better counter a nasty strain this time around.

“Getting vaccinated is going to be the best way to prevent whatever happens,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, flu chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Associated Press.

Last year’s flu brought double trouble: A new strain started a second wave of illnesses just as the first was winding down, making for one of the longest influenza seasons on record. The year before that marked flu’s highest death toll in recent decades.

CDC, Flu, Vaccine
The flu forecast is cloudy and it’s too soon to know if the U.S. is in for a third miserable season in a row, but health officials said Thursday not to delay vaccination. Pixabay

So far, it doesn’t look like the flu season is getting an early start, Jernigan said. The CDC urges people to get their flu vaccine by the end of October. Typically flu starts widely circulating in November or December, and peaks by February.

“Painless,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pronounced after getting his own flu shot at a news conference Thursday.

If people shrug at the risk, “it’s not just about you,” Azar said. “Vaccinating yourself may also protect people around you,” such as how newborns have some flu protection if their mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy.

Scientists are hunting for better flu vaccines, and the Trump administration last week urged a renewed effort to modernize production. Most of today’s vaccine is produced by growing flu virus in chicken eggs, a 70-year-old technology with some flaws. It takes too long to brew new doses if a surprise strain pops up. And intriguingly, newer production techniques just might boost effectiveness.

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For now, people who get vaccinated and still get sick can expect a milder illness — and a lower risk of pneumonia, hospitalization or death, stressed Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

He’s been known to tell such patients, “I’m always glad to see you’re still here to complain.”

Here are some things to know:

WHO NEEDS VACCINE?

CDC, Flu, Vaccine
While the vaccine didn’t offer much protection the past two years, specialists have fine-tuned the recipe in hopes it will better counter a nasty strain this time around. Pixabay

Everybody, starting at 6 months of age, according to the CDC.

Flu is most dangerous for people over age 65, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions such as heart disease, asthma or other lung disorders, even diabetes.

But it can kill even the young and otherwise healthy. On average, the CDC says flu kills about 24,000 Americans each year. Last year, 135 children died.

Parents wouldn’t “drive off with their child not restrained in a car seat, just in case they’re in an accident,” said Dr. Patricia Whitley-Williams, a pediatrician with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “So why would you not vaccinate your child against the flu?”

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HOW MANY GET VACCINATED?

Not enough, the CDC says. Because flu mutates rapidly, a new vaccine is needed every year. Last year, 45% of adults and 63% of children got vaccinated, according to figures released Thursday.

Some groups do a little better. Nearly three-quarters of children under age 5 were vaccinated last year, and just over two-thirds of seniors.

HOW BAD WILL THIS YEAR BE?

Flu is one of medicine’s most unpredictable foes.

For example, last fall started off fairly mild. But in February, a strain notorious for more severe illness, called H3N2, suddenly popped up. Worse, even though each year’s vaccine contains protection against H3N2, the circulating bug had mutated so it wasn’t a good match. A vaccine that had worked well for the first few months of flu season suddenly wasn’t much use.

But if that harsh bug returns, this year’s vaccine has been updated to better match it.

LOTS OF OPTIONS

Manufacturers say up to 169 million vaccine doses will be available this year, and people can ask about different choices. Most will offer protection against four flu strains.

Traditional flu shots are for all ages. For needle-phobic adults, one brand uses a needle-free jet injector that pushes vaccine through the skin. And the FluMist nasal spray is for generally healthy people ages 2 through 49, who aren’t pregnant.

Two brands are specifically for the 65-plus crowd, whose weakened immune systems don’t respond as well to traditional shots. One is high dose, and the other contains an extra immune-boosting compound. Those brands protect against three flu strains, including the more typically severe ones.

And people allergic to eggs have two options, one brand grown in mammal cells instead and another made with genetic technology and insect cells.

NO-EGG VACCINES GAINING NEW INTEREST

Newer technologies could speed production, which is currently a six-month process.

But there’s another reason going egg-free is getting scientists’ attention: Certain strains change a bit while growing in chicken eggs, an adaptation that can make the resulting vaccine a little less protective.

It’s mainly a problem for those worrisome H3N2 strains. While it’s not clear how much difference that makes, Schaffner said some doctors already consider using egg-free brands for high-risk patients.

OTHER STEPS TO TAKE

Cover coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands frequently during flu season. One recent study showed washing is better than hand sanitizers.

Ask about anti-flu treatments if you’re at high risk of complications.

And most important, stay home if you’re sick to keep from spreading the misery. (VOA)

Next Story

Experimental Vaccine for Swine Fever Virus Shows Promise

When they deleted this gene, ASFV-G was completely attenuated

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Pigs, Swine Fever, Asia
Almost 5 million pigs in Asia have now died or been culled because of the spread of African swine fever over the past year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Friday, warning Asian nations to keep strict control measures in place. Pixabay

Researchers have developed a vaccine against African swine fever that appears to be far more effective than previously developed vaccines.

Currently, there is no commercially available vaccine against African swine fever, which has been devastating the swine industry in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

African swine fever virus (ASFV) is highly contagious and often lethal to domestic and wild pigs, according to the the study, published in the Journal of Virology.

“This new experimental ASFV vaccine shows promise, and offers complete protection against the current strain currently producing outbreaks throughout Eastern Europe and Asia,” said study researcher Douglas P Gladue from Plum Island Animal Disease Center, Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture.

The research was motivated by the 2007 outbreak of African swine fever in the Republic of Georgia.

“This was the first outbreak in recent history outside of Africa and Sardinia–where swine fever is endemic–and this particular strain has been highly lethal and highly contagious, spreading quickly to neighboring countries,” Gladue said.

“This is also a new strain of the virus, now known as ASFV-G (the G stands for Georgia),” Gladue added.

chinese pork, african swine fever
Pigs stand in a barn at a pig farm in Jiangjiaqiao village in northern China’s Hebei province on May 8, 2019. Pork lovers worldwide are wincing at prices that have jumped by up to 40 percent as China’s struggle to stamp out African swine fever in its vast pig herds sends shockwaves through global meat markets. RFA

For the findings, researchers set out to develop a vaccine. Part of the process of developing whole virus vaccines involves deleting virulence genes from the virus.

But when the researchers deleted genes similar to those that had been deleted in older ASFV strains to attenuate them, “it became clear that ASFV-G was much more virulent” than the other, historical isolates, because it retained a higher level of virulence, said Gladue.

The researchers then realised they needed a different genetic target in order to attenuate ASFV-G.

They used a predictive methodology called a computational pipeline to predict the roles of proteins on the virus. The computational pipeline predicted that a protein called I177l could interfere with the immune system of the pig.

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When they deleted this gene, ASFV-G was completely attenuated.

In the study, both low and high doses of the vaccine were 100 per cent effective against the virus when the pigs were challenged 28 days post-inoculation, the researchers said. (IANS)