In February 1918, a Haskell County, Kan., paper, the Santa Fe Monitor, reported almost a dozen people were “quite sick” with pneumonia. At the time, the stories may not have seemed significant. Many people get sick in the winter.
Decades later, however, the stories became hugely important. The Monitor’s report helped disease detectives piece together the trail of the world’s greatest influenza pandemic and its epicenter, according to “The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History” by author John Barry. The 1918 flu, which ultimately killed about 50 million people globally, likely began in Haskell County, where scientists think the deadly flu virus jumped between animals and humans and then to troops at a nearby army base readying to fight World War I.
Why this matters today was highlighted in a Stat story this week by Helen Branswell, “When Towns Lose Their Newspapers, Disease Detectives are Left Flying Blind.” Continue reading
This year’s severe flu season has increased the spotlight on the development of a “universal” influenza vaccine – a vaccine that would be effective against most strains of the flu.
But that vaccine has been elusive.
In 2011, Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told USA Today that he was “guardedly optimistic” a universal flu vaccine would be within reach in five years after scientists identified pieces of the virus that consistently appeared in seasonal and pandemic flu viruses. Continue reading
Reporters covering the flu season know it has been one of the most severe in the past decade. As of early February, the number of people who have visited a doctor due to the flu had exceeded the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Public health officials have known since last fall that this flu season was likely to be severe, yet the health system had trouble keeping up. Hospitals have been overwhelmed. There have been shortages of antivirals, IV saline bags and flu shots. Dozens of children have died.
What does that say about the U.S. health system’s readiness for handling infectious disease outbreaks? We are among the wealthiest nations in the world, and yet every year the health system has trouble convincing people to get the flu vaccine and has further difficulty caring for those who get ill. Continue reading
Photo: Jeff Porter/AHCJBrenda Fitzgerald, M.D., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke at a briefing on public health emergencies at the CDC on Dec. 4.
Fellows in two of AHCJ’s health journalism fellowship programs attended today’s press briefing about ongoing public health emergencies with Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Eric Hargan, CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., and CMS Administrator Seema Verma.
The journalists are attending a week-long training session at the CDC as part of the AHCJ-CDC Health Journalism Fellowships and the Mid-Atlantic class of the AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellowship. Continue reading
Public health officials have warned over the past several weeks the U.S. flu season this year may be worse than usual following a tough flu season in Australia.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN that “in general, we get in our season what the Southern Hemisphere got in the season immediately preceding us and an intelligent guess” is that North America will most likely have a bad flu season.
Further, Dr. Daniel Jernigan, influenza chief at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the Associated Press that: “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but there’s a chance we could have a season similar to Australia.” Continue reading