The Flu Report: 11/26/14

Flu Near You Map - November 26th
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

Influenza cases are up over 40 percent from last week, and, although the locations of these infections haven’t changed much, the increased infection rate is something to pay attention to.

Overview:

As of now, 9.3% of specimens received for flu testing have come out positive. While this does not mean that 9.3% of the population has flu, it does mean that a larger portion of those seeking help are indeed sick with the flu virus. The CDC now shows Region 10 (AK, ID, OR, WA) as having the highest concentration of flu cases with 18.2% of tests showing positive results. However, Region 4 (AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN) still has the highest number of cases over the same period.

What is truly interesting is the CDC’s Influenza-Like Illness map which shows (in addition to the data already mentioned) that no US state has above a ‘Low’ rating, but Puerto Rico has a rating of ‘High.’ In fact, the influenza-like illness activity rates in Puerto Rico are far and away the highest of any US state or territory. FluNearYou.org seems to a agree with this, showing a majority of users in Puerto Rico have influenza, or, at the very least, flu-like symptoms.

By the Numbers:

In the United States, the CDC has reported:

  • Flu Cases (Laboratory Confirmed) – 955 (9.3% of specimens tested)
    • Influenza A – 836 (87.5%)
    • Influenza B – 119 (12.5%)
  • Flu-related Deaths (Percentage) – 5.0% (1.4% below endemic 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.

As flu season progresses, more up to date information will become available.

Around the World:

Influenza is spreading further throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Mexico and Russia are near severe levels of influenza activity, according to Google Flu Trends. Meanwhile, Canada remains at moderate levels of flu infection. Western Europe remains mild, as does almost all of the Southern Hemisphere.

Staying Healthy:

Our tip for this week: get your flu shot! It’s not too late to protect yourself against the flu. According to the CDC, almost 140 million doses of the flu vaccine have been given to date. Be part of the solution, and help keep yourself healthy by getting vaccinated. Influenza vaccines do take two weeks to become fully effective, meaning the sooner you get vaccinated, the better.

For additional help and flu advice, contact a Passport Health flu professional at 1-888-499-PASS (7277) and we’ll help you schedule your flu vaccination today.

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.

Thanksgiving Travel Tips

Airport Crowd

 

Thanksgiving travel, and holiday travel in general, can be extremely stressful. With long lines, flight delays, and flight cancellations, a trip to the airport in November or December tends to be a less than pleasant experience. Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to help avoid the headaches that come with traveling across the country, or around the world, during the busiest travel time of the year.

Stay Healthy

One of the most important things that anyone can do when traveling, whether it is for the holiday season or otherwise, is to ensure good health before, during, and after your trip. However, proper health precautions are even more crucial during the busy holiday season. Using hand sanitizers, practicing proper hand washing, and getting an annual flu shot are more important than ever, especially when your body may be run down and stressed out to begin with. Be sure to pack a small first aid or travel health kit, and get a flu vaccination at least two weeks before your flight to prevent illness and save a lot of mid-vacation discomfort.

Avoid Peak Travel

The period stretching from the day before Thanksgiving to the Sunday following the holiday is one of the busiest domestic travel times of the year. If you can, try to schedule your flight to leave before and get back after that time period. Depending on the air carrier, this can cost a little less too, even though you might pay more for your stay since you’ll be in your locale of choice for a little longer. But, slightly shorter lines at the airport and fewer flight cancellations may make this decision well worth it.

Another good tip is to travel earlier in the day, especially if you must travel during peak times. Morning flights are less likely to be delayed, but later flights will be adjusted for delays that may have happened earlier in the day. The earlier you fly, the more likely you are to arrive on time.

Pack Light

Arriving on time becomes even more important if you have connecting flights. There is nothing worse than arriving home for the holidays only to discover that the gifts, and clothes, you brought with you are still a thousand miles away. Mailing gifts is generally a good idea, and a policy that the TSA advocates. Additionally, if you can, try to travel with only carry-on luggage. This can save you money on baggage fees, time waiting to check them, and the agitation that can come from bags being lost.

Pack Healthy Snacks

Hunger, and the tiredness and grumpiness that tend to result, can make a busy travel day almost insufferable. In order to stay calm and healthy while traveling, it is key to not skip meals or become dehydrated. Having a healthy snack and drink on hand can give you the energy you need to get through the day. However, be sure to follow TSA guidelines, especially as they pertain to liquids. And, if you have any gluten allergies, be sure to review our post from last month on how to travel with your allergy.

Be Conscious of TSA Requirements

Remember, the busiest time of the year for air travel is necessarily the most stressful time of year for the TSA as well. Try to be considerate and understanding as you go through security checkpoints and screenings. Be sure to follow guidelines when it comes to liquids, and obey all rules when passing through security checkpoints. The TSA’s website is a great help in this regard, as it provides the most up to date standards.

If you are a frequent traveler, you might consider signing up for the new TSA Pre✓™ Expedited Screening. This program prescreens flyers and allows those accepted to receive benefits like being able to leave their shoes on and access faster priority lines.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Delays, lost luggage, and inclement weather are very real possibilities when traveling during the holidays. Have a backup plan ready just in case you end up having to change what you will be doing or where you will be staying. If something unforeseen does happen with your flight, try to show a little holiday spirit, and be courteous to the attendant who is helping you. A little kindness can go a long way.

Do you have any holiday travel tips or keys to traveling successfully during busy seasons? Leave any thoughts or ideas you might have in our comments section below.

Travel Health May Play a Key Role in Sharp Decline in Hepatitis Cases

Group of people eating at an outdoor restaurant

 

A new report shows there has been a sharp decline in Hepatitis A cases in recent years throughout the United States.

An analysis of federal data found that hospitalization rates from this disease have fallen from 7.2 to 2.9 patients per million admitted to hospitals from 2002 to 2011. Hepatitis A cases have fallen by almost 90% over the past 20 years, a major step forward in the fight against the potentially deadly liver disease.

The study was inconclusive on whether this decline was due to increased precautions in restaurants and other public places (where hepatitis A is commonly contracted) or due to the over 70% vaccination rate for Hepatitis A among children, but it is logical that both reasons were likely contributing factors. Another key indicator that may have played a role in the decline of Hepatitis A cases is the increased vaccination rates among travelers to countries where the disease remains endemic.

“Hepatitis A vaccination is very important for everyone, especially travelers to high risk countries,” says Melanie Kohr, Vice-President of Clinic Operations for Passport Health. “Travel trends are on the rise, and, if more people are vaccinated against this potentially deadly disease, then the likelihood of spreading it when a traveler returns greatly declines. This can play a critical role in national health in the long term and for the health of close family members, no matter the situation.”

Hepatitis A is an acute liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV). It does not lead to chronic infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is transmitted by the ingestion of contaminated food, fecal matter, or close person-to-person contact. The CDC estimates that more than 2,000 new cases happen every year and suggests vaccination for all children starting at age 1 year as well as travelers to certain high risk countries.

What other factors could play a role in this decline in hepatitis A infections? Please tell us your thoughts in a comment below.

Travel Better by Avoiding Sleep Debt

sleep debt: woman sleeping on luggage

 

Vacations are supposed to be fun and relaxing, but, all too often, they become as tiring as a 60-hour work week. The reasons for fatigue while traveling can vary, but one of the most common culprits is easy to solve, but often forgotten, problem called sleep debt.

Generally speaking, eight hours is the recommended amount of sleep per night for the average adult. Some people might require more sleep while others can function with less, but a study done by the University of Pennsylvania in association with Washington State University used eight solid hours as its baseline, healthy amount of sleep. The study split subjects into three main groups: those who would get four, six, or eight hours of sleep per night for two weeks.

After fourteen days, the subjects who had eight hours of sleep per night had no notable cognitive decline, but those with only four hours of sleep experienced significant decline, and those getting six hours of sleep experienced notable decline as well. Lack of sleep “has a neurobiological cost which accumulates over time,” said the researchers.

One week into the study, a quarter of those in the six hour group were falling asleep at random intervals throughout the day, and, after two weeks, their mental and physical performance was the same level as if they had stayed up for 48 hours straight.

It’s interesting that these individuals had only ‘missed’ 28 hours of sleep over the two week period, but the detrimental effects of reduced sleep almost doubled in terms of impact on functioning.

Missing crucial hours of sleep can easily occur on a vacation or business trip. Whether it is a packed tour schedule full of unique and not-to-be-missed cultural experiences or days packed with important meetings and client dinners, there are plenty of reasons you may be awake for extended hours.

Here are three tips to maintain healthy sleep and avoid accruing a sleep debt while traveling:

  1. Settle short term sleep debt right away. If a busy week meant you got only 6 hours of sleep each night (resulting in a debt for the week of 10 hours), try to get an extra 4 hours one day on the weekend to feel fully recharged.

  2. If it is not possible to sleep for an extended period of time on one day, try to integrate an extra hour or so of sleep each day over the week following the busy one to help stave off fatigue.

  3. Avoid beginning your trip with a sleep debt. Plan a restful day after you arrive so that your body is able to get a few extra hours of sleep to make up for long plane flight and extra hours of wakefulness.

Do you have some tips for the best way to keep your sleep account full, even when on the road? Leave a comment to let us know how you avoid sleep debt!

Black Friday Health Tips

black friday shopping crowd

 

Black Friday is the day bargain hunters wait for all year and it’s one week away. Every year, millions of shoppers go out and participate in this once a year event. However, Black Friday can involve a range of unique health perils. Follow the tips on this list to make your Black Friday a healthy success.

Lower stress levels

The holidays can be the most stressful time of the year. From finances to overburdened schedules, the holiday season is full of unique stressors. Black Friday can either add to this stress or help to lessen it. Getting holiday shopping done early, and hopefully at a lower price, can potentially alleviate financial issues, but the long lines and other hassles that are inherent parts of the shopping experience on this day add stress. Set financial limitations for your shopping, and plan to shop online so that you do not have to deal with crowds.

Get vaccinated

Be sure you have received your annual flu shot and are up to date on all other routine vaccinations, especially if you plan to venture out into the packed shopping malls. Flu activity is on the rise at this point in the year, and many cases of pertussis have been reported across the US as well. You will be in close contact with a lot people if you go out shopping on Black Friday, so be sure that you are fully vaccinated to help prevent against bringing an unwanted “gift” home with you. Remember to bring hand sanitizer with you, and wash your hands frequently throughout the day as the surfaces you touch will have been touched by many other people on this day.

Wear the right clothing

Comfortable shoes are a must for Black Friday shoppers. You are going to be standing in line, even if it is to simply approach the cash register. If you plan to wait outside for a store to open, plan your attire even more carefully. Take a warm jacket and potentially even an umbrella, rain coat and rain boots, if snow or rain is in the forecast. Although colds and the flu are brought on by viruses, not the rain, putting your body through unnecessary stress due to a lack of protection from the elements can weaken your defenses.

Fuel your body properly

Some individuals will stay up all night to get the best deals and take advantage of middle-of-the-night specials. The deals may indeed be good, but consider if the health sacrifice is truly worth it. Most people need at least 6 hours of sleep to function properly. Also, be sure to eat a good breakfast in the morning, and bring healthy snacks with you to keep your blood sugar at a consistent level. Make sure you stay hydrated throughout the day by carrying a water bottle with you. Packing your own food and drink will also help you to avoid unhealthy temptations found in mall food courts.

What are your Black Friday health tips? Have you found anything to be your secret weapon against getting sick? Comment below and let us know!

Pertussis Cases Spreading Across the US

Map of United States

 

The fall and winter months in the US see a rise in cases of the common cold and influenza every year, but a different disease has been making headlines recently as cases of pertussis (more commonly known as whooping cough) have been on the rise across the nation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, pertussis is a respiratory illness and a very contagious disease caused by a type of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. These bacteria attach to the cilia (tiny, hair-like extensions) that line part of the upper respiratory system. The bacteria release toxins, which damage the cilia and cause inflammation (swelling).

Part of what makes pertussis so problematic is that it is easily spread and is particularly dangerous for babies and small children. The disease is commonly spread when an infected individual coughs or sneezes while in close contact with another person. In many cases, the infants that contract the disease receive it from an older sibling or other family member who was infected. This makes pertussis vaccination even more important as a protection for the youngest members of society.

The CDC has determined that the best method of avoiding pertussis is through vaccination, citing that while no vaccine is 100% effective, in the case of pertussis there is no more effective measure that can be taken. When more individuals are immune to a disease, there are fewer potential disease carriers, so the ability of a disease to spread is greatly mitigated.

It is troubling that the number of pertussis cases in the US has grown over the last two decades. According to CDC estimates, the number of pertussis cases bottomed out in 1981 at 1,248 cases, a remarkable improvement given that there were over 100,000 cases just thirty years before. However, since 1981, the number of cases have been steadily rising. A high of 48,277 cases were reported in 2012 before dropping back down to 28,639 cases in 2013.

Although the CDC has not put out any official information offering reasons as to why this rise may be occurring, downward trends in general vaccination rates in certain areas of the United States could be a factor in disease resurgence, as they were for the measles outbreaks that have appeared over the past year.

If you or your child have suffered from pertussis, please comment below and share your story. What do you think was to blame for the illness you experienced?

Also, be sure to do your part in preventing disease, and get stay up to date on all routine vaccinations!

The Flu Report: 11/19/14

Flu Near You Map - November 19th
Image courtesy of flunearyou.org. Click here to view the interactive map.

 

Once again, we are seeing an uptick in flu cases as we progress into flu season. However, unlike previous weeks, we are seeing some regional changes as well as a rise in flu-related deaths that puts the nation almost at the epidemic threshold.

Overview:

The biggest news of the week is that the number of flu-related deaths has nearly reached the ‘epidemic threshold.’ Please note that the word “epidemic” in this context is less sinister than it may sound, as this measure is widely used as an important indicator for influenza spread. The CDC defines a flu epidemic by the percentage of deaths caused by influenza or pneumonia, and the threshold is then set at a certain percentage above what is considered normal during that period. Simply put, instead of counting flu cases (which can be extremely difficult to track since not everyone who comes down with the flu will actually visit a doctor), the CDC has chosen to use mortality as the key indicator of flu spread.

This week has also marked a shift in where influenza is spreading the most. HHS Region 10, an area covering Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, had the highest percentage of flu cases reported, based on samples received in laboratories. For most of flu season to date, the South has seen the highest amounts of flu activity, so this shift marks the first time a different area of the US has lead the nation in flu spread. Flu cases in Region 10 have been slowly rising over the last few weeks, and the reasons for this increase could include more contact between infected individuals and a lack of immunity due to low vaccination rates in parts of the region. No specific reason for the increase has been given by the CDC, however.

That being said, the American South still leads the nation for actual number of flu cases with more than 1,400 reported over the last three weeks, more than double that seen in any other region. Whether this trend will continue is unknown, especially since newly reported flu cases in the area have been declining over the last two weeks.

By the Numbers:

In the United States, the CDC has reported:

  • Flu Cases (Laboratory Confirmed) – 678 (7.4% of specimens tested)
    • Influenza A – 567 (83.6%)
    • Influenza B – 111 (16.4%)
  • Flu-related Deaths (Percentage) – 6.0% (0.3% below 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.

As flu season progresses, more up to date information will become available.

Around the World:

Although the United States is still listed as having a low concentration of flu cases, both Canada and Mexico are listed as moderate. Influenza seems to be spreading at a higher rate throughout the Northern Hemisphere, according to Google Flu Trends. Russia and Austria have both returned to moderate ratings, and most of Western Europe is moving closer to this level as well.

Staying Healthy:

Our tip for this week: Use proper germ containment. If you are sneezing, be sure to use a tissue, and, if you are coughing, cover your mouth with your elbow, not your hands. These simple measures can help contain the germs that spread the flu and can keep you and those around you healthy. Also, be sure to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often. For additional help and flu advice, contact a Passport Health flu professional at 1-888-499-PASS (7277) and we’ll help you schedule your flu vaccination today.

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.

Flublok At Your Door: Passport Health and Uber Are At It Again

Passport Health and Uber Health Flu Event

 

Passport Health and the innovative ride-sharing service Uber have teamed up yet again to bring flu vaccine to UberHEALTH users free of charge – this time in Chicago. Protein Sciences Corporation, maker of the revolutionary Flublok® vaccine – a latex-free, egg-free, and preservative-free flu vaccine – generously provided the vaccine for today’s event.

“When we heard about UberHEALTH, we knew this was a fresh approach to public health, and we wanted to play a role,” said Manon Cox, President and CEO of Protein Sciences Corporation. “We are thrilled to be able to take part in this creative partnership and bring Flublok to Uber users in Chicago.”

Flublok is an exciting, new class of flu vaccine that is highly pure; it contains no egg protein, gelatin, thimerosal, latex, or influenza virus; and is manufactured in the United States using DNA and cell culture technology.

Like the first UberHEALTH events that took place last month in Boston and Washington, DC, Uber drivers will pair with registered Passport Health nurses to deliver no-cost Flublok vaccines and flu-prevention kits to UberHEALTH users in Chicago. The event runs today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST.

As flu season ramps up, finding ways to increase access to flu immunizations is a priority not just for Passport Health, but for public health advocates everywhere. The total economic impact of the flu is over $10 billion annually, the result of some 62 million flu cases and 226,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year.

Despite that, fewer than 40 percent of adults 18-64 years of age get their annual flu shot. In Illinois, just 35.7 percent of adults in that age range take the CDC’s recommendation to receive their yearly influenza immunization.

With fewer Americans seeking flu vaccines in a traditional setting, Passport Health knows that innovation is key to improving vaccination rates. That’s why Passport Health is excited to once again be working with UberHEALTH to bring flu prevention kits and Flublok vaccines directly to users.

For 20 years, Passport Health has provided its clients with protection against vaccine-preventable diseases, including the flu. This year, Passport Health launched FluFree.com, a website designed to address the growing gap between the need for vaccination and the number of people who actually chose to get vaccinated.

“People know they need to get their flu shot, but sometimes life gets in the way of taking care of your health,” said Fran Lessans, RN, MS, Founder, President and CEO of Passport Health. “That’s where partnerships like this one make such an impact. It’s hard to say no to a flu shot on demand!”

For more information on influenza, flu vaccines and flu safety, visit FluFree.com, or contact a Passport Health immunization specialist at 1-844-FLU-FREE.

Is a Do-It-Yourself Flu Vaccine Possible?

happy, healthy person with doctors behind her

 

A new study found that military personnel who were taught to give themselves nasal spray flu vaccinations had the same level of immunity as those who were given the vaccine by health professionals.

This is a huge step forward for MedImmune’s nasal spray vaccine, FluMist, which is the preferred method of vaccination for most healthy kids aged two to eight years. However, don’t expect to be giving it to your own child anytime soon. The nasal spray may be (relatively) easy to administer, but there are still some risk factors involved.

“It’s a very interesting concept and I can definitely see some benefits” says Dr. Jonathan Temte who heads a panel that advises the CDC on vaccine policy. “Before anyone could endorse this in children, one would have to have an appropriately designed study that shows equal efficacy, equal safety, and then the acceptability.”

In this case, safety is key. Self-vaccination with FluMist isn’t as easy as it sounds, and vaccinating children is more of a science than simply spraying something up their noses. While everyone over six months old should get a flu shot, according to the CDC, special vaccination guidelines apply to children when they receive their first vaccination, and medical history should always be reviewed before a vaccine is administered.

The nasal vaccine is also a little trickier to apply than a nasal spray you might be accustomed to using for allergies, for example. Health workers that administer the vaccine need to be sure that it has fully entered the nose and that children, and parents too, don’t squirt it out of their nose.

Whether self-vaccination will become something more common in the future is unknown due to regulatory guidelines and a lack of testing, and, as Dr. Temte put it, we are still a long way from anything definitive. However, the topic is certainly an interesting one.

So, we want to hear from you! Would you vaccinate yourself, or would you prefer the help of a professional? Feel free to leave a comment below and let us know what you would choose to do!

How to Travel Light

traveler with suitcase

 

Sometimes, it can be difficult to bring enough clothes to get you through a long trip. Surely, no savvy traveler wants to haul any more luggage than is absolutely necessary through customs. The secret to traveling lighter when on an extended trip is to plan to clean the clothes you bring. Follow these tips to successfully slim down your suitcase, without resorting to wearing each outfit inside and out!

1. Plan wisely
A bit of pre-travel planning will go a long way. If you plan to wash your clothes yourself, pack quick dry items that do not wrinkle or require ironing. If you plan to use a hotel laundry service for your laundry needs, be sure to send your items to this service with ample time before your departure.

2. Pack proper supplies
Supplies will be necessary if you plan on doing your own laundry while overseas. A mesh bag with a drawstring will help separate dirty clothes from clean ones. You can pack concentrated liquid detergent in a small, sturdy, plastic squeeze bottle (and seal it in a plastic bag to contain potential leaks) so that you do not have to make this purchase overseas. Don’t forget to bring a sink stopper, as some hotels will remove these to discourage cleaning clothes in the hotel room. Finally, a stretchable travel clothes line will ensure you are able to hang everything up to dry in your hotel room.

3. Be mindful of hotel rules
Many hotels prefer that you do not do laundry in your room, and some bathrooms will even include a sign stating this policy. Therefore, wash carefully and in a way that does as little potential damage to the hotel room as possible. Wring clothes out before hanging them to minimize dripping on the floor. Hang your clothes to dry over the bathtub or in a closet; do not hang them out the window, as this unsightly practice is discouraged by most hotels.

What are some of your best tips to pack light or do laundry while traveling? Tell us in a comment to this post!