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A Bad Flu Season Keeps Getting Worse

FRIDAY, Feb. 9, 2018 (HealthDay News) — This year's dangerous flu season shows no sign of wanin..

FRIDAY, Feb. 9, 2018 (HealthDay News) — This year's dangerous flu season shows no sign of waning, and "may be on track to break some recent records."

That was the sobering assessment offered Friday by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat.

Flu activity across the country has reached new highs compared to other recent severe flu seasons, Schuchat said. For example:

  • Levels of influenza-like illness across the country are as high as observed at the peak of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
  • The current hospitalization rate is approaching the final rate seen at the end of the severe 2014-15 season.
  • Middle-aged people are being stricken at nearly twice the rate seen in 2014-15, although health officials aren't sure why. The flu usually is hardest on the very young and the very old.

Unfortunately, the flu season probably won't start winding down anytime soon, Schuchat added.

For the past five years, the flu season has lasted between 11 and 20 weeks, she said.

"We're only at week 11 now, so we could potentially see several more weeks of increased flu activity," Schuchat said.

As of Feb. 3, a total of 48 states continued to experience widespread flu activity, according to the CDC's latest surveillance report. In Oregon and Hawaii, flu is occurring at a more limited regional level, rather than statewide.

Flu-linked hospitalization rates continue to rise — from 51.5 per 100,000 people for the week ending Jan. 27 to 59.9 per 100,000 people for the week ending Feb. 3.

"Overall hospitalizations are now significantly higher than what we've seen for this time of year since our current tracking system began almost a decade ago, in 2010," Schuchat said.

Pediatric flu deaths also continue to rise, with 63 children now dead from the flu so far this season.

Cases of influenza-like activity also continued to increase, with 7.7 percent of patient visits related to flu-like illness during the week ending Feb. 3, up from 7.2 percent of visits the previous week.

"The previously recorded high for that was 7.6 percent for a non-pandemic year in 2003-2004," Schuchat said. "Influenza-like illness is now at the same level as the peak week of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic."

The CDC reports this week that 63 people out of every 100,000 between the ages of 50 and 64 have been hospitalized with the flu.

"In 2014-15, that number was 35.1 per 1,000. That was our most severe recent season, and we're quite a bit higher than that," Schuchat said.

Epidemiologists and virus experts don't have an explanation yet for why the flu this season has been worse than usual, Schuchat said.

The season has been dominated by the H3N2 flu strain, which usually is more virulent, but the virus itself doesn't seem to be much different from previous H3N2 strains.

"We're still characterizing this year's virus," Schuchat said. "This years' virus isn't new in terms of antigenic risk. Our virologists and others around the country are studying the virus to see whether there are other explanations for the more severe disease we're seeing."

Preventing flu with vaccination is the best way to avoid trouble, of course, but statistics released last week out of Canada suggest this season's vaccine is just 17 percent effective against the H3N2 strain.

Despite this, it's still recommended that people get the flu shot, if only to prevent them from getting the flu a second time after coming down with a case of the H3N2 virus, Schuchat said. She noted that the Canadian researchers estimated that the flu vaccine is 55 percent effective against influenza B viruses, which typically cause more infections late in the season.

Despite the severity of the season, the American Lung Association says there are things you can do to avoid being stricken by the virus.

"The flu is more than just 'a bad cold.' It's a serious respiratory illness that's easily spread from person to person, usually when the person with the flu coughs or sneezes," Dr. Norman Edelman, senior scientific advisor for the American Lung Association, told HealthDay.

"Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, weakness, aches and pains," Edelman said in a lung association news release. "If you have asthma or other lung diseases, you are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu."

There are a number of ways people can protect themselves and others. They include:

  • Get a flu shot. Though this year's vaccine isn't a perfect match for the viruses in circulation, it's still the best way to protect against infection. And some protection is better than none. Flu season may not end until May. The flu shot will remain effective for roughly six months.
  • Seek medical attention. People who develop flu-like symptoms should see a doctor right away. Antiviral medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza can help ease symptoms, but these drugs are most effective if taken within 48 hours of getting sick.
  • Don't spread the misery. If you get the flu, take steps to prevent passing the infection to others. Sick people should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Hands should be washed frequently. People should avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth, particularly if their hands aren't clean. Be sure to disinfect possibly contaminated surfaces and objects. Anyone with the flu should stay home and not go to work or school for about a week. Once flu symptoms appear, people are contagious for five to seven days.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about the flu.

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Burkina Faso: Growing Violence Threatens Health Care

Away from the worlds attention, Burkina Faso has been slipping into violence. In less than a year, t..

Away from the worlds attention, Burkina Faso has been slipping into violence. In less than a year, the number of displaced has increased fivefold, from 50,000 last December, to 270,000 in August. As ever, the most vulnerable suffer most: the very young, and the very old.

When Alidou Sawadogos elderly mother fell ill, he faced a long and dangerous journey to get treatment for her.

“When she collapsed, a friend called me,” he explains. “By the time I arrived she was already unconscious. I decided to take her to the health center and luckily someone who had a motorcycle helped me. Because of the violence many people who are sick wait at home and die. Everyone is afraid of taking the road to the health center in Barsalogho.”

Across Burkina Faso, the rising insecurity has forced over a hundred health centers to close, or to limit their work. Half a million people now have little or no access to health care. Dedicated health workers, among them Dr Bertrand Dibli in Barsalogho, are struggling to meet the needs, and to stay safe themselves.

“This is one of the few health centers that isnt closed,” he says. “We dont have enough equipment. And the insecurity has caused huge anxiety among health workers. Even coming here to Barsalogho is a huge challenge because the route is so dangerous.”

The ICRC has been working to support Burkina Fasos health professionals, with medical kits, and vaccination campaigns. During his visit to the country, ICRC President Peter Maurer expressed his concern at the multiple challenges facing Burkina Fasos people.

“We are very concerned,” he said. “Very worried about the upsurge in violence, its a vicious circle that is trapping the civilian population between armed groups.”

“We also see,” Mr Maurer added, “that it is not only the violence that is affecting the country, it is also under development, and climate change. Together with the violence that is obstructing the health services, its an accumulation of factors.”

And so the ICRC – jointly with the Burkinabé Red Cross – is also delivering food to the displaced, and helping to improve access to water supplies. All of this, says nurse Jeanette Kientega, is desperately needed by a population uprooted by conflict, and denied access to basic health care.

“By the time they are able to get here, it is often too late” she says. “Sometimes we can help, but if they have already been ill a long time, it is difficult. We try to do what we can.” (more…)

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World Bank and WHO Statement on Partnership & Deployment of Financing to WHO for Ebola Response in DRC

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2019—The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the G..

WASHINGTON, August 23, 2019—The World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), along with the Government and other key partners, are working in close partnership on the Ebola Crisis Response in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Central to this partnership is the assessment of the financing needs, and deployment of resources, with the goal to put an end to the current deadly outbreak.

The World Bank is today announcing that US$50 million in funding is to be released to WHO for its lifesaving operational work on the frontlines of the outbreak. The WHO is announcing that this US$50 million in funds will close the financing gap for its emergency health response in DRC through to the end of September 2019, and is calling on other partners to mirror this generous support in order to fund the response through to December.

The funding comprises US$30 million from the Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEF) and US$20 million from the World Bank. The US$50 million in grant funding is part of the larger financial package of approximately US$300 million that the World Bank announced last month to support the fourth Strategic Response Plan for the DRC Ebola outbreak.

“WHO is very grateful for the World Banks support, which fills a critical gap in our immediate needs for Ebola response efforts in DRC, and will enable the heroic workers on the frontlines of this fight to continue their lifesaving work,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization. “We keenly await further funding from other partners to sustain the response through to the end of the year.”

The DRC government, working in collaboration with the World Bank, WHO, and other key partners, has finalized the Fourth Strategic Response Plan (SRP4), which outlines the total resources needed for the DRC Ebola Crisis Response from July to December 2019. The financing announced today is part of the World Banks previously announced financial package of up to US$300 million and covers over half of SRP4s needs, with the remainder requiring additional funding from other donors and partners.

“The World Bank is working closely with WHO, the Government of DRC, and all partners to do everything we can to put an end to the latest Ebola outbreak,” said Annette Dixon, Vice President, Human Development at the World Bank. “The partnership between our organizations and the Government is critical for responding to the emergency as well as rebuilding systems for delivery of basic services and to restoring the trust of communities.”

The Government of DRC requested US$30 million from the PEF Cash Window to be paid directly to WHO. The PEF Steering Body approved the request bringing the PEFs total contribution to fighting Ebola in DRC to US$61.4 million. The PEF is a financing mechanism housed at the World Bank; its Steering Body is co-chaired by the World Bank and WHO, and comprises donor country members from Japan, Germany and Australia. The quick and flexible financing it provides saves lives, by enabling governments and international responders to concentrate on fighting Ebola—not fundraising.

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Borno State launches first Malaria Operational Plan, reawakens fight against malaria

Maiduguri, 13 August 2019 – Following recommendations from malaria interventions in Borno State Nige..

Maiduguri, 13 August 2019 – Following recommendations from malaria interventions in Borno State Nigeria, the Malaria Annual Operational Plan (MAOP) was developed and launched on 08 August 2019 with technical support from the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners. Aligned to the National Malaria Strategic Plan (2014 -2020), MAOP was developed through a broad-based stakeholders workshop involving malaria stakeholders, reviewed on different thematic areas and endorsed by the Commissioner for Health and Permanent Secretary, Borno State Ministry of Health.

Speaking during the launch, the Borno state Malaria Programme Manager, Mr Mala Waziri described the MAOP as the first to be endorsed and disseminated in Borno State. “WHO has made us proud by supporting the first ever Malaria Operational Plan right from development, review, printing to dissemination.”

Dr Ibrahim Kida, the Ministerial Secretary Borno State Ministry of Health and Incident Manager of the state, described the launch as “an historic event as stakeholders across the health sector made commitments to use the document as an implementation guide for all malaria programs”. The plan was also described as an advocacy tool for planning domestic funds mobilization.

The MAOP has seven objectives among which are: provide at least 50% of targeted population with appropriate preventive measures by 2020; ensure that all persons with suspected malaria who seek care are tested with Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) or microscopy by 2020 and all persons with confirmed malaria seen in private or public health facilities receive prompt treatment with an effective anti-malarial drug by 2020.

The MAOP will further ensure that at least 50% of the population practice appropriate malaria prevention and management by 2020, ensuring timely availability of appropriate anti-malarial medicines and commodities required for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of malaria in Borno State by 2020.

In addition, it seeks to ensure that all health facilities report on key malaria indicators routinely by 2020 and finally strengthen governance and coordination of all stakeholders for effective program implementation towards an A rating by 2020 on a standardized scorecard. These strategic objectives have specific targets and the MAOP takes into account the humanitarian response.

“Malaria remains a leading cause of poor health in Nigeria. According to the 2018 WHO Malaria Report, 53million cases are recorded annually in Nigeria, roughly 1 in 4 persons is infected with malaria contributing 25% of the global burden,” says Dr Nglass Ini Abasi, WHO Malaria Consultant for the North East.

“Furthermore, 81,640 deaths are recorded annually (9 deaths every hour), which accounts for 19% of global malaria deaths (1 in 5 global malaria deaths) and 45% malaria deaths in West Africa. The Nigeria Malaria Strategic Plan (NMSP) 2014-2020 has a goal to reduce malaria burden to pre-elimination levels and bring malaria-related mortality to zero and WHO is working assiduously with Government to ensure the burden is reduced accordingly.”

Results from WHO’s Early Warning, Alert and Response System (EWARS) week 30 report from 223 sites, (including 32 IDP camps) show that malaria was the leading cause of morbidity and mortality accounting for 35% of cases and 46% of reported deaths. In addition, results from the Nigeria Humanitarian Response Strategy (NHRS 2019-2021) indicate 7.1million people are in dire need of healthcare and 6.2million are targeted for immediate attention.

Despite recent improvements, insecurity remains a challenge limiting access to the functional health facilities. Easily preventable and treatable diseases such as malaria, acute respiratory infection and diarrheal diseases account for the greatest proportion of morbidity and mortality among the vulnerable population. Furthermore, Malaria is endemic in North East Nigeria and the transmission is perennial with a marked seasonal peak from July to November every year. (more…)

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