ABCs of Viral Hepatitis

Children playing chess with grandparents

Viral hepatitis is the term that describes inflammation of the liver that is caused by a virus. There are actually five types of hepatitis viruses; each one is named after a letter in the alphabet: A, B, C, D and E.

The most common types of viral hepatitis are A, B and C. These three viruses affect millions of people worldwide, causing both short-term illness and long-term liver disease. The World Health Organization estimates 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B or chronic hepatitis C. In 2015, 1.34 million died from viral hepatitis, a number that is almost equal to the number of deaths caused by tuberculosis and HIV combined.Know The ABC’s of Viral Hepatitis More than 4 million people in the US are living with viral hepatitis. Most don’t know it! A: Hepatitis A can be prevented with a safe, effective vaccine. B: Many people got infected with hepatitis B before the vaccine was widely available. C: Treatments are available that can cure hepatitis C. Take the CDC Online Risk Assessment to see if you should be vaccinated or tested for viral hepatitis: https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/riskassessment/

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States, and can cause serious health problems, including liver failure and liver cancer. In the U.S., an estimated 3.5 million people are living with hepatitis C in the US and an estimated 850,000 are living with Hepatitis B. Unfortunately, new liver cancer cases and deaths are on the rise in the United States. This increase is believed to be related to infection with hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

Many people are unaware that they have been infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C, because many people do not have symptoms or feel sick. CDC developed an online Hepatitis Risk Assessment to help determine if you should get tested or vaccinated for viral hepatitis. The assessment takes only five minutes and will provide personalized testing and vaccination recommendations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a short-term disease caused by infection with the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A is usually spread when a person ingests the virus from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by solid waste from an infected person. Hepatitis A was once very common in the United States, but now less than 3,000 cases are estimated to occur every year. Hepatitis A does not lead to liver cancer and most people who get infected recover over time with no lasting effects. However, the disease can be fatal for people in poor health or with certain medical conditions.

Hepatitis A is easily prevented with a safe and effective vaccine, which is believed to have caused the dramatic decline in new cases in recent years. The vaccine is recommended for all children at one year of age and for adults who may be at risk, including people traveling to certain international countries.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a liver disease that results after infection with the hepatitis B virus. Hepatitis B is common in many parts of the world, including Asia, the Pacific Islands and Africa. Like Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B is also preventable with a vaccine. The hepatitis B virus can be passed from an infected woman to her baby at birth, if her baby does not receive the hepatitis B vaccine. As a result, the hepatitis B vaccine is recommended for all infants at birth.

Unfortunately, many people got infected with hepatitis B before the vaccine was widely available. This is why CDC recommends anyone born in areas where hepatitis B is common, or who have parents who were born in these regions, get tested for hepatitis B. Treatments are available that can delay or reduce the risk of developing liver cancer.

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis C virus. For reasons that are not entirely understood, people born from 1945 to 1965 are five times more likely to have hepatitis C than other age groups. In the past, hepatitis C was spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants. However, widespread screening of the blood supply in the United States began in 1990.The hepatitis C virus was virtually eliminated from the blood supply by 1992. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles, syringes, or any other equipment to inject drugs. In fact, rates of new infections have been on the rise since 2010 in young people who inject drugs.

There is currently no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. Fortunately, new treatments offer a cure for most people. Once diagnosed, most people with hepatitis C can be cured in just 8 to 12 weeks, which reduces their risk for liver cancer.

Find out if you should get tested or vaccinated for viral hepatitis by taking CDC’s quick online Hepatitis Risk Assessment.

For more information visit www.cdc.gov/hepatitis.

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Everyone can be a flu vaccine advocate!

Little girl getting a bandaid.
Children, especially those younger than 5 years, are at higher risk for serious flu-related complications. The flu vaccine offers the best defense against getting the flu and spreading it to others.

With the holidays quickly approaching, there will be more opportunities to spend time with family and friends.  Now is the time to ensure that you and those around you are protected from flu. Now is the time to get your seasonal flu vaccine if you haven’t already gotten it. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body.—so it’s  important to get vaccinated now, before the flu begins circulating in your community.

Whether you are a doctor, school nurse, grandchild, best friend, or coworker, you can play a role in reminding and encouraging  other people to get their flu vaccine. Get your flu shot and talk to others about the importance of everyone 6 months and older getting a flu shot every year.

Talking to Friends and Family about Flu ShotsGet yourself and your family vaccinated.

Need some tips for talking about the importance of flu vaccine? CDC is a great source of information about the serious risk of flu illness and the benefits of flu vaccination, as well as information to correct myths about the flu vaccine. Below are several examples of the benefits of flu shots and corrections of common flu myths. Find out more about the benefits of getting your annual flu vaccine on CDC’s Vaccine Benefits webpage, here.

  • Flu can be a serious illness, even for otherwise healthy children and adults. While most people will recover from flu without complications, anyone can experience severe illness, hospitalization, or death. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking serious illness for yourself or those around you.
  • The flu vaccine CANNOT give you the flu. Flu shots do NOT contain flu viruses that could infect you and cause flu illness. Flu shots either contain flu vaccines viruses that have been “inactivated” (or killed) and therefore are not infectious, or they do not contain any flu vaccine viruses at all (recombinant influenza vaccine).
  • Flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick with flu. Flu vaccines can reduce your risk of illness, hospitalization.
  • Getting vaccinated yourself may also help protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and children, older people, and people with certain chronic health conditions.

Making a Flu Vaccine Recommendation to Your Patients

Woman talking to her doctor
Talking to patients about vaccines can be difficult. CDC has resources to help you make a strong flu vaccine recommendation.

For health care providers, CDC suggests using the SHARE method to make a strong vaccine recommendation and to provide important information to help patients make informed decisions about vaccinations. Remind patients that it is not too late for them to get vaccinated, and follow the SHARE strategies below:

  • S- SHARE the reasons why the influenza vaccine is right for the patient given his or her age, health status, lifestyle, occupation, or other risk factors.
  • H- HIGHLIGHT positive experiences with influenza vaccines (personal or in your practice), as appropriate, to reinforce the benefits and strengthen confidence in flu vaccination.
  • A- ADDRESS patient questions and any concerns about the influenza vaccine, including side effects, safety, and vaccine effectiveness in plain and understandable language.
  • R- REMIND patients that influenza vaccines protect them and their loves ones from serious flu illness and flu-related complications.
  • E- EXPLAIN the potential costs of getting the flu, including serious health effects, time lost (such as missing work or family obligations), and financial costs.

Be an advocate for flu vaccination. Get your flu vaccine and remind those around you to do the same! Visit www.cdc.gov/flu for more information and tips on flu vaccination and prevention.

Interested in learning more about flu? Check out other CDC Flu Blog-a-thon post throughout the week for personal stories, advice, and tips on flu and flu prevention. You can see all the participating blogs here: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/toolkit/blog-a-thon.htm.

Get a Flu Shot to Protect Your Heart and Your Health

Doctor holding a heart

“When you have a chronic illness, you do everything you can to stay as healthy as you can, which includes getting a flu shot,” says Donnette Smith, president of the heart disease support network, Mended Hearts. Donnette leads Mended Hearts with a mission to inspire hope and improve the quality of life of heart patients, like herself, and their families.

Donnette Smith
Donnette Smith, President of Mended Hearts

“I was born with a heart disease called bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), in which the aortic valve that prevents the backflow of blood has two leaflets instead of three,” explained Donnette. However, it was not until she was 18-years-old that Donnette was diagnosed with a heart murmur during a physical screening. Later, in 1988, at the age of 41, she was diagnosed with BAV and had her valve replaced through heart catherization. “It has been a life-long journey, but I have learned a lot being with Mended Hearts.”

The Flu Can Be Dangerous

People with certain long-term medical conditions, such as heart disease, are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu. Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Donnette describes one time she was diagnosed with flu, “I experienced rapid heartbeat, had other symptoms, and was hospitalized with an IV. There was no room in the hospital, and I had to be placed in the chapel.” Donnette was able to recover from these flu complications, and today is vigilant in her flu prevention efforts—making sure to get her flu vaccine each year and encouraging others to do the same.

You Have the Power to Fight Flu

Donnette continues, “You look at the flu differently when you have an underlying health condition. I 1000% believe in the flu vaccine, and get my flu shot every year! I also make sure to wash my hands often, and avoid touching my face. If you have a congenital heart disease (CHD) or other chronic illness, you have to be more mindful of being around sick people. Furthermore, it is important you head to the doctor if you experience any signs of flu. [Taking these precautions] is like putting a protective barrier around your heart.”

Whether you have a congenital heart disease, like Donnette, other certain long-term medical conditions, or you have loved ones or care for someone with certain long-term medical conditions, it is very important to take steps to protect yourself and those around you.High risk medical conditions • Asthma • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions • Chronic lung disease • Heart disease • Blood disorders • Endocrine disorders • Kidney disorders • Liver disorders • Metabolic disorders • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (HIV or AIDS, cancer or hose on chronic steroids) • People 6 months through 18 years old who are receiving aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications • People who are extremely obese (with a Body Mass Index [BMI] of 40 or greater).

  1. Get a flu vaccine. CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year. Flu shots are approved for use in people with medical conditions. Flu vaccination has been associated with fewer flu-related hospitalizations and complications in high risk groups.
  2. Take everyday preventive actions to help slow the spread of flu. Everyday actions, such as avoiding close contact with people who are sick and staying home when you are sick, also help protect you and others from flu.
  3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them. If you are at high risk of serious flu complications and develop flu symptoms, consult a health care provider. Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder, and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from the flu. Treatment works best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start).

Take it from a Super Flu Fighter

Despite the challenges of CHD, and living through serious flu illness, Donnette Smith thrives. From leading Mended Hearts as President to volunteering at a local hospital, she stays busy. “I do as much as I can for as long as I can.” She will be celebrating a grandson’s 20th birthday in a few weeks, and celebrating her 70th birthday on Thanksgiving.

“Your health is up to you. Flu can be a dangerous illness, and it can take a toll on your body if you have certain chronic conditions. Know how to keep yourself healthy. Don’t be afraid to get a flu shot; it’s a great shield against flu.”

Preparing for College Life: A Healthy Guide

student studying outdoors.

Zoey Brown joined the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response during this past summer to help with a data analysis project. She saw a number of CDC programs and activities, and authored the following post to the Public Health Matters blog. The views expressed are her own, and do not necessarily represent those of CDC, HHS or other government entities. A number of the links included take those interested in these topics to both CDC and non-CDC sites for more information. The Office was pleased to have this talented young woman on staff for an internship experience.

Zoey BrownAs a rising high school senior, college looms large on my horizon. Everywhere I turn, there’s another form to fill out, essay to write, and decisions to make. And although I’ve had plenty of help during the application process, no one seems especially concerned with what happens after I choose a school. I’ve lived in the same town my whole life; how do I pick up my life and move it to a campus one thousand miles away?

For all the students out there like me, who aren’t quite sure how to prepare for college, I want to share some tips to help you prepare to start this school fall.

You are what you eat

Odds are, your parents have had some control over your food up until now. A lot of kids go to college without any sense of how to manage their diet; hence, the infamous Freshman 15. With that in mind, here’s some helpful tips on maintaining your nutrition on a meal plan.

  • Talk to your doctor. Before you go back to school make sure you understand what your body needs. Everyone has different nutritional needs based on a variety of factors, like age, sex, size, and level of activity.
  • Stay well stocked. Keep your dorm room stocked with healthy snack alternatives. My personal favorites are carrots, cashews, apples, granola bars, and popcorn.
  • Make the swap. Consider switching out some fried foods for grilled versions and soda for juice or water
  • Consistency matters. Develop a consistent meal schedule that complements your schedule. Don’t skip a meal to study or party.

Stay active

If you’re anything like me, finding the motivation to exercise can be tough. Sleeping in a few extra minutes or catching up on Netflix are more tempting than getting in that cardio workout. Without the high school sport or fitness-loving parent to which you’re accustomed, you’ll have to take your health into your own hands. So, what are the best ways to stay in shape on campus?

  • Hit the gym. College is a great place to take advantage of free access to gyms and fitness classes. This is probably one of the last times in your life that you’ll have a free gym membership, so you might as well use it!
  • Get in your steps. Just walking on campus can also be a great source of exercise. Or think about a bike for transportation around your new town.
  • Try out a new sport. If you enjoy playing sports but don’t want to commit to varsity athletics, consider joining an intramural team. There’s no pressure to be an intense athlete, and it’s a great way to let off a little steam.
  • Join the club. Most colleges also offer clubs that go hiking, biking, climbing, and more. These are great way to expand your social circle.

Be mindful

As someone who has struggled with mental health issues over the past few years, I must admit that I’m a little concerned about my transition to college. Luckily, there are a ton of tips out there for maintaining and improving mental health in a new environment.

  • Battle feeling homesick. One of the most common mental health issues new college students experience is homesickness. This can be especially tough if you’ll be attending a college far away from home, like me. There’s no perfect solution, but one of the best things you can do is immerse yourself in college life – join clubs and activities, try to make friends with the people living near you, and make your dorm room feel a little more like home.
  • Avoid anxiety. College is a completely new environment, so it’s understandable that over 40% of college students suffer from anxiety. To help keep anxiety to a minimum make sure you exercise regularly, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep a night, drink less caffeine, and do something you enjoy every day. Of course, if feelings of intense anxiety persist, you should seek help through your school’s health services.
  • Watch your mood. It’s normal to feel down occasionally, but if these feelings persist, you may be suffering from depression. You should visit a counselor at your college’s health service if you experience any of the following for more than two weeks:
    • sleeping problems
    • lack of energy or inability to concentrate
    • eating issues
    • headaches or body aches that persist after appropriate treatment
    • You should also seek help if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts

Know about safe sex

I am fortunate to attend a school with a decent sex education program. However, many teenagers haven’t, so there are a few things that the average college student should know about safe sex.

  • Know it’s a choice. The choice to have sex is yours to make, and abstinence is a completely viable option.
  • Avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. If you do choose to have sex, you should take steps to protect yourself. Use condoms, male or female. Be sure to check that the condom is intact and has not expired before use.
  • Talk to your partner. Ask your partner about their sexual health first. If they refuse to answer, they probably don’t deserve to have sex with you.
  • Get tested. If you are already sexually active, you should consider going into your college’s health clinic to get tested.

Drink responsibly

Drinking under the age of 21 is illegal in the US, but that isn’t always the reality on college campuses. With this in mind, I wanted to lay out some of the dangers of drinking on college campuses so everyone can be informed.

  • Beware of binge drinking. One of the biggest concerns regarding drinking on college campuses is the high rate of binge drinking – 90% of underage drinking is binge drinking. Frequent binge drinking in young adults can lead to alcohol dependence, liver problems, brain damage, and heart troubles. Binge drinking can also lead to poor decision making, including driving under the influences.
  • Don’t get hurt. Underage drinking is also linked to unintentional injuries, violence, school performance problems, and other risky behaviors.

Best of luck to those of you heading off to college and thank you to the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response for the chance to experience public health in action at CDC!

Safety Tips Every Contact Lens Wearer Should Know

close up of a woman putting contact lens in her eye

Are you one of the 45 million people in the United States who wear contact lenses to correct your vision? Eye infections related to improper contact lens wear and care are serious and can lead to long-lasting damage, but they are often preventable.Six out of seven adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 who wear contact lenses report at least one habit that increases their chances of an eye infection, including: • Not visiting an eye doctor at least once a year • Sleeping or napping while wearing contact lenses • Swimming while wearing contact lenses Parents of adolescents can model and encourage healthy contact lens wear and care habits so their children can develop and maintain healthy behaviors as young adults and adults.

This year, in observance of Contact Lens Health Week, you can learn the science behind some of the important contact lens wear and care recommendations:

Replace your contact lens case regularly.

A significant number of people who wear contact lenses report not replacing their lens case regularly. Even when cleaned properly (by rubbing and rinsing the case with disinfecting solution), contact lens cases can become contaminated over time with germs that can cause infections when they come into contact with your eyes.

Don’t sleep or nap in your contact lenses.

Sleeping while wearing contact lenses increases the risk of eye infection by 68 times. Out of every 10,000 people who sleep in their contact lenses overnight, 1820 every year will get an infection of microbial keratitis. This disease causes inflammation of the cornea (the clear dome that covers the colored part of the eye), which, in the worse cases, can lead to permanent vision loss or blindness.

Whitney, Te’, and Ryan tell their personal stories about how their eye infections affected their lives, and how they changed the way they wear and care for contact lenses.
Whitney, Te’, and Ryan tell their personal stories about how their eye infections affected their lives, and how they changed the way they wear and care for contact lenses.

Don’t swim or shower in your contact lenses.

The germs found in water can stick to contact lenses and infect your eyes. Wearing contact lenses can put you at increased risk for Acanthamoeba keratitis, a severe type of eye infection caused by a free-living ameba commonly found in water. These infections can be difficult to treat and extremely painful, and in the worst cases they can cause blindness.

Wash your hands with soap and water before touching your contact lenses.

Germs from your hands can be transferred to your contact lenses and the lens case. Some germs that cause eye infections are found in the water, so it is particularly important that you dry your hands before touching your contact lenses. Wash your hands with soap and water and dry them every time you put in and remove your contact lenses.

Visit your eye doctor every year.

Don't overlook healthy contact lens wear and care.Wearing contact lenses increases your risk for eye infections and complications. Therefore, it is important for you to have a yearly eye exam if you wear contact lenses. Sometimes eye doctors may recommend that their patients have more frequent eye exams.

The week of August 21–25, 2017, marks the fourth annual Contact Lens Health Week. This year’s theme, “Healthy habits mean healthy eyes,” will promote healthy contact lens wear and care practices.

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 Dr. Jennifer Cope is a medical epidemiologist and infectious disease physician at the CDC in the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch. Dr. Cope oversees the free-living ameba program, and supports epidemiologic, laboratory, and communication activities related to free-living ameba infections. She also works with the CDC Healthy Contact Lens Program to raise awareness of contact-lens-related eye infections and the healthy habits that can reduce your chances of getting an eye infection.

Step it up outdoors

Mother and father swinging daughter outdoors

Physical activity can improve your health. People who are physically active tend to live longer and have lower risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some cancers. Physical activity can also help with weight control, and may improve academic achievement in students. Walking is an easy way to start and maintain a physically active lifestyle, and parks are a great place to start.

Physical activity made easy

People of all abilities can benefit from safe and convenient places to walk, run, bike, skate, or use wheelchairs. The decision to walk is personal, but that decision is easier if community walkability is improved. It is important to connect places that people regularly use with sidewalks or paths that are safe and attractive, especially between schools, worksites, parks, recreational facilities that are within walkable distance of each other.

A walk in the parkThe community of West Wabasso, Florida, worked with the Indian River County Health Department and other government agencies to create safe public places for walking, exercise, and play. The project established bus routes, installed streetlights and sidewalks, and improved local parks. Residents filled out a survey about the changes to their community. Ninety-five percent of respondents said they spent more time exercising outside than they had 2 years earlier. They said the changes to their neighborhood, especially the streetlights and creation of safe places to exercise and walk outside, made a big difference.

Less than 40% of people in the United States live within one-half mile of a park boundary, and only 55% of youth have access to parks or playgrounds, recreation centers, and sidewalks in their neighborhoods. However, there is evidence that people with more access to green environments, like parks and recreation areas, tend to walk more than those with limited access. Well-designed parks and trails can promote physical activity and community interaction and provide mental health benefits, such as reduced stress.

Design matters

To help people be active, parks and recreation spaces can offer opportunities for various types of activity, such as walking, hiking and team sports. Programs can be designed to attract a wide range of visitors—age groups, cultures, and ability levels—throughout the year. Park programs can also help participants address barriers to physical activity, including physical limitations and safety concerns. Walking groups or buddy systems can help provide people with multiple opportunities to walk each week. Park entrances with universal access for multiple types of active transportation can promote biking and walking to and from the park.

In September 2015, the Office of the Surgeon General in the US Department of Health and Human Services released Step It Up! The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities (the Call to Action) to recognize walking as an important way to promote physical activity among most people. The Call to Action is intended to increase walking across the United States by calling for improved access to safe and convenient places to walk and wheelchair roll, as well as a culture that supports these activities for all ages and abilities.

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How CDC Is Using Advanced Molecular Detection Technology To Better Fight Flu!

Lab worker

Flu (influenza) is a serious disease caused by influenza viruses. Flu viruses change constantly. They are among the fastest mutating viruses known. These changes can impact how well the flu vaccine works, or can also result in the emergence of new influenza viruses against which people have no preexisting immunity, triggering a pandemic. Year round, scientists from CDC, World Health Organization (WHO), and other partners monitor the influenza viruses that are infecting people. These scientists study the viruses in the laboratory to see how they are changing.

CDC is using next-generation gene sequencing tools to analyze flu viruses as part of CDC’s Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) initiative. The technology allows CDC to study more influenza viruses faster and in more detail than ever before. AMD technology uses genomic sequencing, high-performance computing, and epidemiology to study pathogens and improve disease detection. CDC is using this Next Generation-Sequencing (NGS) technology to monitor genetic changes in influenza viruses in order to better understand and improve the effectiveness of influenza vaccines.

To share more information about this revolutionary NGS technology and its impactful work, CDC expert John Barnes, PhD, Team Lead of the Influenza Genomics Team within the Virology, Surveillance, and Diagnosis Branch within CDC’s Influenza Division took part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything digital Q & A, to answer the public’s question on AMD technology and how these tools are helping to improve influenza virus monitoring and the development of better-performing influenza vaccines. This post includes some highlights from that discussion.

Question 1: What exactly does the AMD technology platform do that is different from the current approaches used to guide vaccine development? And what are the most common reasons that we “guess wrong” in terms of which viral strains will be responsible for the next season’s flu?

Dr Barnes after Reddit Ask Me Anything Q&ADr. Barnes: One example of how AMD technology is used in vaccine development is to address mutations that may occur in vaccine viruses during growth in eggs used in the production of vaccine viruses. These mutations can change the vaccine virus so much that the immune response to vaccination may not protect as well against circulating viruses. This means that vaccinated people may still get sick. CDC is using AMD technology to try to solve this problem. Scientists are looking at the genetic sequences of 10 generations of H3N2 flu viruses as they grow and evolve in eggs. CDC will test all of the viruses to find out what genetic changes cause a good immune response and good growth in eggs. Once the “good” genetic changes are identified, CDC will then synthesize H3N2 viruses with those properties that can be used to make vaccine that offers better protection against H3N2 flu infection. One of the main reasons that the virus is challenging, is due to its’ RNA polymerase. The polymerase of influenza is very mistake prone and causes the virus to mutate rapidly. For example, in some years certain influenza viruses may not appear and spread until later in the influenza season, making it difficult to prepare a candidate vaccine virus in time for vaccine production. This can make vaccine virus selection very challenging. We are currently using AMD techniques to sequence all clinical specimens that come into the CDC to improve our ability to find and track mutations that may be of concern.

Question 2: Why are chicken embryos typically the go-to for flu vaccine cultivation?

Dr. Barnes: Thanks for this question – it’s one we get a lot!  Flu vaccines have been made using an egg-based manufacturing process for more than 70 years. In the past, when making a vaccine for production manufacturers utilized eggs as a safe host to make the vaccine and to provide high yield.  As birds are the natural reservoir host for flu, influenza typically grows well in eggs and maintains a safe distance between species you’re using to make the vaccine and the target.  Mammalian cell lines were subjected to extensive safety testing to establish a cell line that is human pathogens free, while maintaining sufficient vaccine yield. You can learn more about how AMD technology is improving the development of flu vaccines made using egg-based technology, here.

Question 3: What about the flu virus causes it to mutate so quickly from year to year requiring a new vaccine every season? For example with chickenpox there is one virus and one vaccine, why then with the flu are there countless strains and a new vaccine every year?

Dr. Barnes: As you know, influenza is a virus and can only replicate in living cells. Influenza viruses survive by infecting host cells, multiplying, and then exiting host cells. The enzyme influenza uses to copy itself is very error prone which causes the virus to rapidly mutate. Each host has its own defense mechanisms and these defenses are collectively referred to as environmental pressures. It’s difficult to predict how a virus will mutate when attempting to get around a host’s immune defenses, but the changes can happen rapidly, as you said.

Because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and sometimes updated to keep up with changing flu viruses. More information about how influenza viruses can change is available here.

Question 4: Do you have any insight on the universal vaccine that was developed?

Dr. Barnes: Great question! Yes, I can provide some insight. A longer-term goal for seasonal flu vaccines is the development of a single vaccine, or universal vaccine, that provides safe, effective, and long-lasting immunity against a broad spectrum of different flu viruses (both seasonal and novel). Right now, CDC is a part of an inter-agency partnership coordinated by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (or BARDA) that supports the advanced development of new and better flu vaccines. These efforts have already yielded important successes (i.e. a high dose flu vaccine specifically for people 65 years and older that creates a stronger antibody response), but a part of this effort is the eventual development of a universal vaccine. A number of government agencies and private companies have already begun work to advance this type of vaccine development, but, as you can imagine, this task poses an enormous scientific and programmatic challenge.    

Question 5: How would you convince someone who is staunchly against flu vaccines that they’re a good thing?

 Dr. Barnes: Help address misconceptions about the flu. Remind people that a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. They should understand that anyone can get the flu, and each year, thousands of people in the United States die from flu, and many more are hospitalized.  It’s important to stress that the flu vaccine can keep people from getting flu, make flu illness less severe if they do get it, AND keep them from spreading flu to their family and other people that could be at high risk of severe flu complications.

Interested in learning more? Check out Dr. Barnes’ full Reddit AMA here.

John Barnes, Ph.D., is Team Lead of the Influenza Genomics Team (IGT) at the Virology, Surveillance, and Diagnosis Branch of the CDC’s Influenza Division. He earned his Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Dr. Barnes began his career at CDC in the Influenza Division in 2007 after working at a postdoctoral fellow at the Emory University Department of Human Genomics. His current work includes managing a staff of nine to serve the sequencing and genetic analysis needs of the Influenza Division. Current numbers of viruses sequenced by the IGT make CDC’s Influenza Division the largest contributor of influenza sequence data among the WHO Influenza Collaborating Centers.

Tips to Protect Yourself from Norovirus

Woman Stomach Ache

If you have never been sick with norovirus, chances are you will. In fact, norovirus is so common that most people will get sick with it several times during their life.

The symptoms of norovirus can be miserable and include diarrhea, throwing up, nausea, and stomach pain. Most people who get sick with the virus get better within 1 to 3 days, but it can lead to dehydration or more serious illness, especially in young children and older adults.

Every year, 19 to 21 million people get sick with diarrhea and vomiting caused by norovirus. Norovirus season in the United States peaks in the winter months, although you can get sick at any time during the year.

You can get sick with norovirus by having contact with a sick person, eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus, or touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus then putting your fingers in your mouth.

Norovirus spreads quickly, especially in places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships.  A tiny amount of the virus on your food or hands is enough to make you sick.

Currently there’s no vaccine to prevent getting sick from norovirus. However, there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself and others:

  1. Wash your hands carefully with soap and water

Wash your hands carefully with soap and water—

  • especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and
  • always before eating, preparing, or handling food.

Noroviruses can be found in your vomit or stool even before you start feeling sick. The virus can stay in your stool for 2 weeks or more after you feel better. So, it is important to continue washing your hands often during this time.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. However, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.

  1. When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for othersnorovirus_a580px

You should not prepare food for others or provide care while you are sick and for at least two days after symptoms stop. This also applies to sick workers in settings such as schools and daycares where they may expose people to norovirus.

  1. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces

After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using an appropriate disinfectant. Learn how to make a bleach solution that can kill norovirus.

  1. Wash fruits and vegetables, and cook seafood thoroughly

Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them. Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them. Norovirus can survive temperatures as high as 140°F and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish. Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.

  1. Wash laundry thoroughly

Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. You should

  • handle soiled items carefully without agitating them,
  • wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after, and
  • wash the items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length then machine dry them.

Following these steps can help protect you and other people from norovirus this season.

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Don’t Skip A Beat: Prepare for Heart Attacks

Healthy heart

Preparing for a potential heart attack now could save a life later.

A crisis often strikes without warning, whether it’s a tornado, an earthquake, or a heart attack. Although heart attacks can happen suddenly, you can take steps now to prepare in case one should ever happen to you or a loved one. February is American Heart Month, a perfect time to ask yourself, “Would I know what to do in the event of a heart attack?”Following a heart attack, approximately 1 in 4 women will die within the first year, compared to 1 in 5 men.

Approximately every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. A heart attack happens when a part of the heart doesn’t get enough blood, starving it of the oxygen it needs. This reduced or blocked blood flow is usually caused by the buildup of a waxy substance called plaque in the arteries—a process that can take years to develop.

No matter how healthy you and your loved ones may be, you can take steps to prepare for the possibility of a heart attack. Preparation could help save a life.

  1. Know the risks. Be educated about the risks you and your loved ones face. Certain behaviors and conditions can increase your risk for a heart attack, including smoking, having uncontrolled high blood pressure, being overweight, and eating an unhealthy diet. Talk to your health care professional about what you can do to lower or manage these risks.
  2. Have a heart-to-heart. Engage friends, family members, and loved ones in a conversation about heart attack risks, and discuss what you can do together to prevent a heart attack. You might learn that you can help someone live a healthier life by taking them grocery shopping, driving them to medical visits, or reminding them to take their medicines. This is also an excellent time to document your own family health history. Knowing your family’s health history can tell you a lot about your own risk for heart attack because heart attack risk can often be inherited.
  3. Recognize the signs. Heart attacks look and feel different in women than they do in men. Both men and women may feel chest pain when having a heart attack, but women are more likely to also experience shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and pain in the back, neck, or jaw. About 1 in 5 heart attacks are called “silent” heart attacks, which means you’re having a heart attack but don’t know it.Signs and symptoms of heart attack in men and women
  4. Be safe, not sorry. Many heart attacks start slowly with relatively mild pain. That keeps many people from calling 911 as soon as they should. Make an agreement with loved ones that you will call 911 as soon as anyone experiences any of the signs of a heart attack. Don’t hesitate: acting fast can save a life.
  5. Write down important information. Keep a record of what medicines your loved ones are taking, what medicines they’re allergic to, and who they would want to have contacted in case of an emergency. If your loved one is hospitalized for a heart attack, you’ll have important information at your fingertips.
  6. Focus on prevention. It pays to be prepared in case a heart attack happens, but the best case scenario is to never experience a heart attack at all. You can help prevent heart attack from happening by eating healthfully, getting enough physical activity, not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, and managing other health conditions like high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes. Reach out to your loved ones and commit to making these healthy changes together.

Staying heart-healthy is a lifestyle. Support from friends and loved ones can help empower you to be your healthiest self. This American Heart Month, show your support and share tips about how you encourage your loved ones to be heart-healthy by using the hashtag #HeartToHeart on Twitter and Facebook. You can find other ways to participate in American Heart Month by visiting the Million Hearts website.

How Much Radon is In Your Home?

Focus on Radon Chemical Element from the Mendeleev Periodic Table

January is National Radon Action Month. Protect your home and your family from this invisible health risk.

Knowing how much radon is in your home could save your life. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. If you smoke and live in a home with high radon levels, you increase your risk of developing lung cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General’s office estimate radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S.

What is radon?

Radon is a gas that forms naturally when radioactive metals – like uranium, thorium, or radium – break down in rocks, soil, and groundwater. Radon is invisible; you can’t see, smell, or taste it. When you breathe in radon, radioactive particles from radon gas can get trapped in your lungs. Over time, these radioactive particles increase the risk of lung cancer. It may take years before health problems appear.

Where does radon come from?

Radon comes naturally from the earth, and people are always exposed to it. Radon in air can come through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes. Some homes have higher levels of radon than others. Having your home tested is the only effective way to determine whether you and your family are exposed to high levels of radon.

How do I test for radon?

Testing is inexpensive and easy, and should only take a few minutes of your time. It requires opening a package, placing a small measuring device in a room, and then leaving it there for the desired period (which may be a few days, or as many as 90 days or more). The longer the testing period, the more relevant the results are to your home and lifestyle.Protect your family from radon

To test for radon:

  • Purchase a radon test kit.
  • Test your home or office.
  • Send the kit to appropriate sources to determine radon level.
  • Fix your home if radon levels are high.

How can I reduce my exposure to radon?

To reduce high radon levels in your home and protect yourself from an increased risk of lung cancer, you can take action.

  • Stop smoking and discourage smoking in your home.
  • Increase air flow in your house by opening windows and using fans and vents to circulate air. Natural ventilation in any type of house is only a temporary strategy to reduce radon.
  • Seal cracks in floors and walls with plaster, caulk, or other materials designed for this purpose. Contact your state radon office or call the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON for a list of qualified contractors in your area and for information on how to fix radon problems yourself. Always test again after finishing to make sure you’ve fixed your radon problem.
  • Ask about radon-resistant construction techniques if you’re buying a new home. It’s almost always cheaper and easier to build these features into new homes than to add them later.

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