Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: swine flu

Now for updates on local H1N1 clinics and state breast-cancer screenings

December 4, 2009 |  6:57 pm

Over at the L.A. Now blog, Molly Hennessy-Fiske reports on the final H1N1 clinics in Los Angeles County:

The first of the final dozen county-sponsored H1N1 flu vaccination clinics opened this morning in Santa Clarita with faster-moving lines as Los Angeles County health officials applied many of the lessons learned from previous clinics, which had been criticized as chaotic and inefficient.

Read more

And Rong-Gong Lin II writes about a breast-cancer screening program for poor women. This situation isn't as positive...

A cigarette tax-funded program that pays for breast cancer screenings for low-income women will stop accepting new patients Jan. 1, public health officials said this week. Officials said the decision came as a result of “unprecedented fiscal challenges” to the program which they hope to reopen by summertime.

Read more.

-- Tami Dennis

Swine flu, embryonic stem cells are high on these (early) top 10 lists

December 2, 2009 | 12:35 pm

MaskThe reflections on 2009 have begun.

-- This week, the Harvard Health Letter offers up its top 10 health stories of the year. Leading the list is the H1N1 influenza pandemic. Second is healthcare reform.

-- The Scientist touts its top 10 innovations of the year. Leading that list is researchers' newfound ability to convert cells to an embryonic-like state using only proteins. Second is a new machine that could be used to identify viruses or bacteria during an outbreak.

-- And AOL hands over its top 10 health-conditions searches. No link, so we'll give you the whole list: Tops is ... yep, swine flu. Followed by lupus, diabetes, pregnancy, depression, herpes, fibromyalgia, autism, HPV and breast cancer.

By my calendar, we still have about a twelfth of the year to go, but apparently no one expects much of poor December.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: A woman wears a mask in the Beijing subway. In China, as in the rest of the world, swine flu has taken a toll. Credit: Peter Parks / AFP/Getty Images

Better get that H1N1 shopping, and pitching, in while you can

December 1, 2009 |  5:01 pm

FluCases of the pandemic H1N1 strain of influenza appear to be subsiding (today's stories H1N1 flu cases decline, but still taking heavy toll and  Swine flu has peaked locally; officials warn a third wave is possible), but attempts to capitalize on fears of it seem to be spreading.

Today we hear about a new chair to combat hospital-borne illnesses. An e-mailed pitch tells us: "As hospitals have begun to restrict visiting hours because of H1N1 concerns, Linder's designs improve sanitation while also increasing comfort." 

Here's more on the chair, which, to be fair, seems to have found fans at the Center for Health Design.

Then there was this subject line: "Interest in ASLEEP? New book about the encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the 1920's, which could re-emerge with the next flu pandemic." 

And more on the book. Again, to be fair, the as-yet-unpublished work may well be riveting -- or find fans at the Center for Health Design -- but such alarmism ... tsk.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: The pandemic strain of H1N1 flu has launched a thousand pitches.

Credit: AP

Nearly 8,000 H1N1 flu deaths worldwide, WHO says

November 27, 2009 |  3:11 pm

Pig At least 7,826 people worldwide have died from laboratory-confirmed cases of pandemic H1N1 influenza, an increase of more than 1,000 in the last week, but the actual number is probably much larger than that, the World Health Organization said today. Most countries have now stopped counting every case, and the totals do not reflect all the deaths linked to the virus, so the actual number is probably substantially larger. In the United States, for  example, a little more than 1,000 deaths have been firmly linked to the swine flu virus, but officials estimate that about 4,000 people have actually died from the virus and its complications.

The agency said that the current wave of infection appears to have peaked in the United States and the Caribbean region, but that it has plateaued in Canada and appears to be increasing relatively rapidly in Europe. Very high levels of activity have been seen in Sweden, Norway, Moldova and Italy in the last week, and more than 99% of the flu cases have been typed as swine flu. Healthcare services have been exceptionally strained in Albania and Moldova, the WHO said. In France, that country's health ministry said, the number of deaths in the outbreak jumped by 22 last week, bringing the total of laboratory-confirmed deaths to 68.

In a news conference Thursday, Dr. Keiji Fukuda, special advisor on pandemic influenza to the WHO's director-general, said that 40 countries have now distributed at least 100 million doses of swine flu vaccine with no serious side effects. He also said that about 75 patients with a virus resistant to the antiviral agent Tamiflu have been identified, but there is no evidence that the resistance is spreading through the population at large. Many of the cases have been observed in patients who were severely immunocompromised, he noted.

Fukuda also said that about six cases of a severe allergic reaction have been observed in Canadian patients receiving one batch of a GlaxoSmithKline swine flu vaccine. Normally, about one such reaction would be expected from a single lot of the seasonal flu vaccine. He said the remaining doses of the 170,000-dose lot of the vaccine are being withheld while officials determine whether there is a problem, but he suspects the unusually high number is simply a coincidence.

In other flu news:

-- If you are traveling through Chicago this weekend, you might be able to get your swine flu vaccine there. O'Hare International Airport opened a kiosk Wednesday where travelers who fall into high-risk groups could receive the vaccine, and Chicago Midway Airport is expected to begin offering the vaccine Saturday. The kiosks, which will also offer seasonal flu shots, are run by the University of Illinois-Chicago.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

And from the California swine-flu front lines...

November 19, 2009 |  4:34 pm

So what's the H1N1 flu situation here in California, you might well ask, having safely gotten, or given up on getting, a vaccination? Or perhaps the immunization issue was rendered moot by those days of fever and chills and pathetic moaning, and now you're just looking for empathy.

Here's what our colleagues at L.A. Now report: H1N1 deaths and hospitalizations slowed last week in state.

Health officials, of course, advise against relaxing your guard.

— Tami Dennis

Need help finding a flu shot? Apparently so...

November 12, 2009 |  2:42 pm

Shots If recent news coverage is to be believed, and we maintain that it is, finding a flu shot can be problematic.

Nov. 4: A long day and long lines at Glendale swine flu clinic

Nov. 3: Shortage of flu vaccines leaves healthcare workers vulnerable

Oct. 28: L.A. County free H1N1 vaccine clinics overwhelmed

And then there was this letter to the editor published Tuesday:

"For weeks I have been trying to get an H1N1 vaccination for my 12-year-old son. His asthma makes him a vulnerable target for this flu. While scores of people who do not fit into the high-risk groups have been vaccinated in clinics around the L.A. area, my doctor has yet to receive the vaccine."

Help might be at hand, report our Technology blog colleagues. They write: "To deal help with the high demand, Google Maps has launched a flu shot finder at It provides users with the locations of clinics that provide seasonal and H1N1 vaccines." Here's the post: Google launches flu shot locator.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Get yours today! Credit: Reuters

Because what we really need is another celebrity-laced vaccine controversy

November 9, 2009 |  4:35 pm

Corgan If you're considering getting vaccinated against the H1N1 flu strain, there's something you should know: Billy Corgan wouldn't.

The Smashing Pumpkins' frontman recently wrote on his blog Everything From Here to There:

"I for one will not be taking the vaccine. I do not trust those who make the vaccines, or the apperatus [sic] behind it all to push it on us thru fear. This is not judgment; it is a personal decision based on research, intuition, conversations with my doctor and my ‘family’. If the virus comes to take me Home, that is between me and the Lord. I have put up some of these links to inspire the question in you, so that perhaps you can make a better decision for yourself."

He didn't stop here, or there, of course, weighing in about the choice of living or dying; fear's connection to love; and the potentially questionable existence of Robert Zimmerman.

Here's a post about the topic, complete with context involving Blink-182's Mark Hoppus and his views on healthcare reform.

Unable to resist, the blog Respectful Insolence reliably and pointedly weighs in:

"I actually used to like Smashing Pumpkins back in the 1990s. Unfortunately, its leader, Billy Corgan, has just revealed himself to be as medically ignorant as Jenny McCarthy in a recent blog post."

Still no word on what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention thinks of that last album.

-- Tami Dennis  

Photo: Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins performs last December. Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times

Tsk, Kellogg. Did you think no one would notice?

November 4, 2009 |  1:25 pm

-- First came the bold statement.

On boxes of Rice Crispies and Cocoa Crispies was the claim: "Now helps support your child's immunity." (The whole thing was in a bright yellow banner, with "immunity" rivaling the size of the product name.)

Colorful -- Then came the criticism and, of course, the media attention.

Here's Sunday's USA Today story: Critics blast Kellogg's claim that cereals can boost immunity. Said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, in that story: "By their logic, you can spray vitamins on a pile of leaves, and it will boost immunity."

And said the Boston Globe in an editorial today:  "Even if Cocoa Krispies and Rice Krispies were helpful against the flu, the side effects would be unacceptable in a nation where obesity is epidemic among children. Kellogg’s deserves no immunity from public scorn."

Apparently, the San Francisco city attorney got the ball rolling with a letter demanding some explanation. Here's "City takes aim at Kellogg's advertising," from the San Francisco Examiner.

-- Now comes the pullback.

Says today's press release: "Kellogg Company today announced its decision to discontinue the immunity statements on Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereals. ... While science shows that these antioxidants help support the immune system, given the public attention on H1N1, the Company decided to make this change. The communication will be on pack for the next few months as packaging flows through store shelves. We will, however, continue to provide the increased amounts of vitamins A, B, C and E (25% Daily Value) that the cereal offers."

Perhaps smaller companies can get away with such things.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: All that's missing is the immune-boosting breakfast cereal. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Questions, with answers, about H1N1 (swine flu)

November 3, 2009 | 11:19 am

H1n1Who should get the H1N1 vaccine?

Pretty much everyone, health officials say, assuming a person hasn't already had the H1N1 flu. But don’t go elbowing to the front of the line just yet. With limited vaccine supplies available, some groups get priority because the virus poses greater risk to them than it does to most healthy adults. So if you’re not pregnant, a healthcare worker, age 6 months to 24 years, live with or care for an infant under 6 months, or have a compromised immune system, hold off.  As difficult as it may be, you need to wait until there’s enough vaccine available for all.

I’m at high risk – honest, I am. Where can I get the vaccine?

Go to your county health department’s website for a list of clinics and dates. In Los Angeles County, that’s

Is the vaccine safe?

It would certainly seem to be. As one infectious disease specialist put it recently: "This H1N1 vaccine is made just like all the flu vaccines we have been making for 60 years, which have an extraordinary record for safety."

See Scientists aim to dispel fears on H1N1 flu vaccine

Why are young people more likely to be affected?

The short answer is, no one is sure. Some scientists blame a lack of exposure to similar strains of the flu; some suggest young people's immune responses go into overdrive. Regardless, a better understanding of this flu will be crucial to developing ways to fight it in the future. Here's a closer look at the mysteries of this flu strain.

See Swine flu virus causing confusion

Are pregnant women really more at risk?

Yes, yes, yes. Many of them are young, so they're more likely to be affected. And their immune systems are operating at lower capacity than usual so their bodies don't reject the fetus.

See H1N1 vaccine a tough sell to pregnant women

Should I get a seasonal flu vaccine?

Again, health experts recommend it for most people. They say that, just because the swine flu strain is the predominant -- by far -- strain in the community at the moment, that could change as we approach traditional flu season.

See Flu shot isn't for H1N1

What's so special about the swine flu?

Many things, not the least of which is its refusal to follow the standard cold-weather transmission patterns. The virus made a splash in the late spring, at the end of the traditional flu season, lingered through the summer and resurged well before the start of flu season in the winter. It's also easily spread. Very easily spread, affects young people more than old, and is a previously unseen combination of viruses found in pigs, humans and wild birds. Interesting, no?  

See How the new virus came to be.

How do I know if I have the flu?

If you have a fever, chills, head and chest congestion, assume that you do.  If you simply feel a little peaked or have the sniffles, assume that you don’t.

How do I know which flu I have?

If you have the flu, you can pretty much bet it's the novel H1N1 strain. Don’t be fooled by the limited number of “confirmed” flu cases in your school or office. Health officials aren’t even bothering to test in most suspected flu cases because, right now, that virus is pretty much the only game in town.

Have more questions?

Head to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You could spend days there, exploring and learning about the H1N1 strain. And the news is always changing, so stay tuned here too.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: The pandemic H1N1 strain of influenza virus.

Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What's the ideal price for the swine flu vaccine?

October 27, 2009 |  4:01 pm

PigHere’s some advice for public health officials who want to maximize the number of people getting the H1N1 flu shot: Make it free.

A study being published in Wednesday’s edition of the British Medical Journal finds that the higher the price for the swine flu shot, the lower the odds that people will get it. For instance, three times as many people said they would get a free shot as would get one that cost more than $25.

Hkflu The results are based on a survey conducted in Hong Kong, whose recent experience with severe acute respiratory syndrome and H5N1 bird flu arguably give the general public a heightened sensitivity to outbreaks of novel viruses. Even so, only 45% of those surveyed said they were "highly likely" to get an H1N1 flu shot if it were available for free.

Interest in the vaccine fell steadily from there. A modest price of up to 100 Hong Kong dollars (about $12.90) was enough to knock down interest in the shot to 36%; a price between 100 and 200 Hong Kong dollars reduced it to 24%; and anything above 200 Hong Kong dollars cut acceptance down to 15%, the study found.

Price wasn’t the only factor standing between people and the H1N1 vaccine. Twenty-seven percent of the people surveyed said the shot would be “inconvenient,” and 16% complained that it would cause too many side effects, including “very severe” ones.  (In reality, the CDC says that side effects are rare and are likely to be mild. For more information, check out this Q&A.)

The biggest turn-off for the vaccine would be a lack of information proving that it is safe and effective. Without that data, fully 95% of those surveyed said they would skip the shot regardless of price. However, since the survey was conducted in July, early data on the swine flu vaccines have shown that they “are well tolerated and induce a strong immune response in most healthy adults,” according to a statement last month from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: Masks may be more popular than the H1N1 vaccine in Hong Kong, a new study finds. Photo credit: Vincent Yu / Associated Press


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