New Ebola Test Is Faster Than Ever and Portends Change for Disease Diagnosis

Ebola Test Sample

 

Ebola and other tropical diseases pose a major threat to populations worldwide, especially when it comes to diagnosing the infection.  Current diagnostic tools can take days to identify whether someone has an infection, but a new test created by a group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers could change that.

The device consists largely of a paper strip, and it can identify Ebola fevers within minutes.  Unlike other tests, like those that can identify only a single condition like pregnancy or strep, this one is capable of diagnosing more than just the virulent West African disease.  Research published in an MIT study shows that it is capable of also identifying yellow fever, dengue fever and other viral hemorrhagic diseases.

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What do I need to do to be healthy for Spring Break?

Spring Break Family

 

The snow is starting to melt, flu season is coming to an end and a break from school is on the horizon.  That’s right: it’s almost spring break time  While many schools have their break at different times and potential spring break plans vary widely, here are some general rules to adhere to no matter where you are going or what you might be doing.  Follow these tips for a healthy and enjoyable spring break!

Do your homework:

Before heading out on your spring break adventure, be sure to thoroughly research your destination.  Although this tip sounds basic, it is extremely important.  Some of the most common travel locations for spring vacations like Mexico and the Caribbean islands require a little more preparation than your average trip.  Some locales will have recommendations for the hepatitis A vaccination or the yellow fever vaccination, while only routine shots may be recommended for destinations like Florida.

In addition to vaccination preparation, be sure to pack and prepare for any personal restrictions you might have like gluten intolerance or diabetes.  Relaxing vacations don’t mean relaxed health regimens.

While you’re there:

Wherever you may be going, be sure to use good travel sense and follow the recommendations that you may have received from your doctor or Passport Health Travel Specialist.  Food carts on the side of the road can be very tempting at times, but be careful of the local cuisine and always choose well-cooked options.

Another key component to a healthy spring break is using sunscreen at all times.  Cloudy days may make you think no UV protection is required, but the most harmful rays are still getting through the layer of clouds and can harm your skin.  Be sure to wear sunscreen at all times, when lounging at the beach or simply walking around town.

Spring Break StoryMap
Click here to access the interactive version!

Before coming home:

Coming home can be a sad part of any vacation, but it also provides an opportunity to prepare for your next trip.  Start planning what you might want to do next time before you even leave, and then start planning when you get home.

However, stay mindful while traveling, and don’t get too caught up in your plans for what you might do next and forget something in your bag.  When traveling internationally, you are typically not allowed to bring fruits, vegetables and other food home with you.  Check with your airline and with your country’s government so that you know what can travel back with you.

Vaccination is another way of making sure unwanted diseases like hepatitis or Japanese encephalitis doesn’t travel home with you.  Many diseases have incubation periods as long as two weeks, meaning you could take your vacation and have returned home before getting a nasty surprise. Be sure to get vaccinated before you depart to avoid any unwanted health surprises.

For more information on these and other travel topics, including how to find out about which vaccines you may need for healthy spring break travel to a specific location, see Passport Health’s Travel Medicine portal.

Do you have any special plans for spring break?  Share them with us!  Comment below or on our Facebook page.  Or, send us a tweet on Twitter using #PPHSpringBreak.

The Flu Report: 3/4/2015

Flu Near You Map for March 4
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

Influenza continues to decline this week.  We are seeing more states reporting lower levels of activity than in previous weeks and another overall decline in flu cases across the US.

Overview:

The new year brought with it an unexpected surprise; we have now had eight consecutive weeks of declining flu activity, according to Centers for Disease Control reporting.  Despite this overall decline, the number of influenza B cases has once again increased. Luckily, even if B strain cases do continue to increase, there have so far only been 6,843 confirmed cases of influenza B which is just 6.9 percent of all confirmed influenza cases.

According to FluNearYou.org, the majority of influenza activity is happening around the San Francisco and Boston areas, but it is worth reminding that this data is from user-based reporting, so it does not reflect all of the data included in CDC numbers.  That being said, FluNearYou has been quite accurate in its general prediction of influenza decline so far, so if we continue to rely on this source for accurate data, it is possible that we will see spikes in influenza activity in these areas as the weeks pass.
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New vaccine could end fight against polio

baby receiving polio vaccine

 

A new vaccine that is under development might just end the fight against polio and some other infectious diseases. In an effort funded by more than $600,000 in grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers hope to create a synthetic polio vaccine that minimizes the probability of side effects that the oral vaccine can sometimes have.

The team of England-based researchers hopes to create a vaccine that protects against polio but does not include the live virus that oral and dermal polio vaccines contain. This type of vaccine is safer for use in developing countries, faster acting and easier to produce, making it ideal for use in countries like Pakistan and Nigeria where the disease is still endemic.

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How Can I Protect Myself Against Rubella?

Boy with rubella

 

Measles and mumps have both been top news items lately with headlines talking about outbreaks across North America.  According to the Centers for Disease Control in the United States and multiple other organizations, the best way of preventing these diseases is through vaccination, typically with an MMR shot.  This shot protects against measles, mumps and rubella.  Rubella is a similar disease that has gone generally unnoticed during the last few months of outbreak, so we aim to provide additional information about rubella here.

Rubella, sometimes called German measles, is a contagious disease that causes rash, fever, aching joints, and sometimes much more serious complications as well.  The disease is perhaps most perilous for pregnant mothers and their unborn children who can develop serious complications if they contract the disease.

The rubella vaccine is part of the CDC recommended MMR vaccination. This vaccine has been proven to be safe in multiple studies and is the best prevention against measles, mumps and rubella. For more information on the safety of the vaccine see the CDC MMR safety portal.

The CDC has stated that vaccinating pregnant mothers is, sadly, not an option when it comes to the MMR vaccine.  Therefore, it is best to receive the vaccination before pregnancy, preferably at a younger age, and the CDC suggests the MMR vaccine be first given to people aged four to six-years.

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What Do I Need to Know about Traveling while Pregnant?

pregnant traveler in airport

 

Everyone loves to travel, but sometimes life events can get in the way. Work, school, and social commitments can make taking a vacation challenging. Family can also make travel challenging, especially for people who are just starting one. Many people believe that traveling is impossible while pregnant, but, by following a few simple tips (and talking with a physician, of course!) it can be just as fun while pregnant as it would be at any other time.

Traveling while pregnant is generally safe unless otherwise indicated by a physician. Before planning a trip during pregnancy, however, talk with your primary care doctors about what you will be doing and whether it is advisable to do so. A doctor may recommend changing travel plans slightly depending on your specific situation.

The second trimester of pregnancy is considered the best time for travel as morning sickness has generally ended and other related early risk factors are reduced. Some airlines do have rules regarding pregnant travel, and these are typically related to having medical approval before traveling during the ninth month.

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Measles Is Affecting the US: See a Timeline of the Outbreak!

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland - Courtesy of Harshlight on Flickr
The Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland. Courtesy of HarshLight on Flickr

 

The current measles outbreak has shed renewed light on the need for vaccination and the danger that diseases pose to the unvaccinated. To understand just how rapidly measles can impact the unvaccinated, here is a timeline of events of the current outbreak, from ‘patient zero’ visiting a California theme park to the most recent updates from the CDC.

Measles Outbreak Timeline Image

Click here to view the interactive version!

For more information about measles and the importance of the measles vaccination, see Passport Health’s newly updated web page on the disease.

Are there any other timelines you would like to see? Let us know in the comments below or on the Passport Health Facebook page!

The Flu Report: 2/25/15

Flu Near You Map - February 25th
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

The number of influenza cases is falling across the nation once again this week. More states are reporting heavily reduced activity, and there is a slowing of influenza spread in Europe and throughout the rest of the world as well.

Overview:

Influenza rates fell again this week to just over 2,000 cases reported in the US, the lowest we have seen since mid-November of 2014. But, there have been two interesting developments that have come with this decline. First, influenza B cases are on the rise. Although there are just a few more cases than previous weeks, the overall percentage of influenza B cases has risen to over 20 percent of specimens tested. Vigilance remains important when it comes to this strain.

Secondly, pneumonia and influenza mortality is still above the epidemic threshold. This rate is lower than it was in 2014 at this same time of the year and is fairly similar to the mortality rate that we saw during the 2012-2013 season by mid-February.

Influenza spread seems to be more localized now, according to Centers for Disease Control data as well as that reported by FluNearYou.org. Nevada is the only state in the West with a high influenza activity rating; Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas are the worst in the Midwest; New York, Massachusetts and West Virginia are the only states with major flu spread still occurring. Hawaii and Puerto Rico are the only non-mainland regions that are experiencing high flu activity.

By the Numbers:

In the United States, the CDC has reported:

  • Flu Cases (Laboratory Confirmed) – 2.381 (13.0% of specimens tested)
    • Influenza A – 1,833 (77.0%)
    • Influenza B – 540 (23.0%)
  • Flu-related Deaths (Percentage) – 8.4% (1.2% above epidemic threshold)

NOTE: Flu cases, as referenced above, are confirmed cases in people who have gone to see medical professionals. Percentage estimates, referenced in the “Overview” section, include these documented cases from medical professionals but also a variety of other self-reported metrics.

Around the World:

While much of Europe is still listed as having severe flu activity according to Google Flu Trends, some countries, like Spain and the Netherlands, are seeing a relative decline in flu activity. Japan is also on the mend as it is now listed as having only moderate activity. That being said, if you plan on traveling to Mexico or eastern Europe over spring break, be sure that you have gotten your flu shot as the regions have retained their high states of flu activity.

Staying Healthy:

Our tip for this week: wash you hands! Just because influenza is on the decline in the U.S. and throughout the world doesn’t mean we can stop being vigilant. Wash your hands before eating or after coming in contact with anything that might be a contaminated surface. Hand sanitizers are a good alternative as well, especially if you are on the go.

For additional information on influenza and what can be done to prevent it, visit FluFree.com which contains a variety of flu related resources. In order to schedule your flu shot, even for the upcoming 2015-2016 flu season, please contact a Passport Health flu professional at 1-888-499-PASS (7277) and we’ll help you get everything arranged.

The Flu Report is a weekly blog post designed to give updates on the spread of influenza throughout the year. It is posted every Wednesday and focuses on regional outbreaks, global spread and ways to avoid infection.

Which Vaccines Do You Need for a Safari in Namibia?

Zebras at Etosha National Park in Namibia
Etosha National Park, Namibia

 

Namibia is a beautiful country on the southwest coast of Africa, and it is a popular safari travel destination. Not only is Namibia a great place for viewing African wildlife up close and personal, but the country also offers countless other outdoor adventure options. If you are planning an outdoor adventure in Namibia, make sure you follow our safari roadmap and health tips for travel to Namibia to get the most out of your time overseas!

The Fish River Canyon, located in Namibia, is the second largest canyon in the world, and this is a very popular tourist destination. The 85 kilometer trail through the canyon is perfect for those up for a challenging, multi-day hike, but the trail is only open from May to about the middle of September due to the extreme temperatures during the rest of the year. Travel plans requiring this level of exertion bring with them additional medical considerations that should be evaluated before departure. Be sure to schedule a travel health consultation with a Passport Health Travel Specialist at least four to six weeks before your departure date to go over your unique travel health strategy.

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Am I Sick with Influenza or Measles?

Measles is a potentially deadly disease that spreads rapidly in an unvaccinated population. Especially due to the media attention the disease has garnered recently and the fact that we are still in flu season, you may be wondering whether an illness is influenza, measles, or maybe something else. Although you should always receive a diagnosis from a healthcare professional, the infographic posted below is a quick guide to some of the key differences between measles and influenza.

Is it Measles or Influenza?

Remember that both influenza and measles are preventable through vaccination. Both vaccines have been deemed safe by the Centers for Disease Control and are very effective at stopping the spread of the viruses and lessening their effects should you still get infected.

For more information about influenza, see the Passport Health influenza portal, and, for information on measles, see our measles page.

Any further questions? Comment below, look us up on Facebook, tweet us, or email us, and we’ll see what we can do to help or even help you arrange an appointment with a Passport Health specialist!