Tag: flu

Don’t Believe the Johns Hopkins Anti-Flu Vaccine Story

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You may have seen the story popping up on your Facebook feed, or forwarded by an anxious friend: “Johns Hopkins Scientist Reveals Shocking Report on Flu Vaccines,” the headline reads.

Johns Hopkins Finds a Better Way to Track the Flu

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Google Flu Trends was supposed to revolutionize the way we approached public health in this country. By tracking flu-related search terms across the country, the idea went, GFT could pinpoint where an outbreak was taking place even before people started flocking to the doctor. (I guess the idea was that they’d search “why do I feel so crappy” before they’d finally go in for an appointment.) But by many accounts, that experiment failed. According to an article in the journal Science, GFT consistently and dramatically overestimated the number of flu cases.

There’s got to be a better way — which is presumably why the National Institutes of Health has decided to partner up with Johns Hopkins to create a brand-new center for influenza tracking, which will help identify and track developing viruses. Ideally, researchers will be able to use the data they collect to rapidly identify any new strains that might cause a global pandemic.

Is Flu Medicine Worth It?

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Photo via Wikimedia Commons

As anyone who’s suffered through it can tell you, getting the flu — the real influenza flu, not just some fly-by-night bug — is miserable. If you’ve got a compromised immune system, it can even be deadly. That’s one reason individuals (and governments!) have invested in anti-flu medicines like Tamiflu and Relenza. But there’s just one catch: According to recent research by a University of Maryland doctor, these anti-flu treatments don’t really work.

This Week in Research: Valentine’s Day Dread; Googling the Flu

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In the old days — like, say, last year — hospitals looked to the government to tell them when an influenza outbreak was immanent. The CDC case reports are useful in that they help hospitals prepare for an upswing in sick, contagious patients… but they can be woefully outdated by the time they actually get to the hospitals. A better way to gauge whether an influenza surge is happening around town, according to a recent Johns Hopkins study?  Just Google it.  Well, GoogleFlu it.  The internet search behemoth has started tracking trends in flu searches, meaning that when a person Googles symptoms or obsessively checks WebMD, the site pays attention. And those internet search trends turn out to have a strong correlation with a subsequent rise in hospital admissions of people complaining of flu-like symptoms. Using this model, hospitals can know that an outbreak is coming as it starts to happen — rather than weeks after the fact, as with the CDC reports.

And you thought the holiday season was over! If you’ve been in a drug store recently, you may have noticed that they’re already festooned with Valentine’s Day items, more than a month before that holiday begins. That’s no accident — February 14 is the second-biggest holiday for greeting card retailers, according to the University of Maryland’s Janet Wagner. A full 80 percent of Americans report sending a card to a partner. But it’s not all love and roses out there — UM education professor Ken Rubin estimates that a quarter of kids in a typical classroom are singled out for open rejection by other students; for them, the holiday is just another chance to be publicly rejected. And, as we all know, the holiday can get spendy, especially for men; they spend three to four times as much as women on Valentine’s gifts, says Wagner.

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