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CDC: Coming Flu Season may be severe

On Wednesday, the CDC announced that the strain of influenza virus chosen as the basis of this year’s vaccine does not match the common strains of flu virus now circulating. On Thursday, the CDC warned of the severity of the upcoming flu season. David Muir interviewed ABC’s Chief Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser on ABC World News (12/4, story 7, 1:15, Muir) about the CDC’s concerns over the flu. Muir reported that “Tonight, the CDC now pointing to what it calls a concerning sign that this flu season will be a bad one.” Dr. Besser explained that the makers of the flu shot “guessed wrong” in their selection of the virus to base the shot on. “Between the time they selected the strain for the vaccine in February and now, the flu strain in the community mutated. So, that the vaccine no longer provides protection,” he added. Besser explained that the shot is “not going to work the way a flu vaccine normally works. But it should provide some level of protection and some protection is better than none.” Besser said the flu season is “going to be severe for two reasons: one is, it’s a bad match. But the particular strain that’s in the community in past outbreaks has caused more severe disease, more people in the hospital.” The CBS Evening News (12/4, story 7, 0:25, Pelley) briefly reported, “The CDC told us today the flu shot that you got this year may not be as effective as you would hope … while flu vaccines are usually about 60 percent effective, this season it could be 40 percent.” NBC Nightly News’ (12/4, story 4, 1:35, Holt) Dr. Nancy Snyderman reported that “The CDC has issued a warning tonight about the flu virus… It has mutated, meaning that the flu shot or mist that millions of people got to protect themselves won’t provide nearly as much protection as usual.” Snyderman said that “it’s too late to make a new vaccine for this season, so people who think they may be getting the flu should see their doctor right away,” adding that “the most effective drugs…work best in the first 48 hours of getting sick.”
In continuing coverage from yesterday’s announcement, the Washington Post (12/5, Bernstein) reports that “the government on Thursday recommended immediate vaccination for anyone who hasn’t taken that precaution and urged people who come down with the flu to seek anti-viral medication from their doctors.” According to the CDC announcement, five children have already died this year from the flu, and the strain of the virus circulating, H3N2, has been indicative of a severe flu season in three of the last 11 seasons. The strain has led to increased deaths and hospitalizations in past years. Dr. Thomas Frieden of the CDC noted that only one of every six people suffering from the flu get antivirals, saying those drugs “aren’t a substitute for vaccine. Vaccine prevents flu, but anti-virals are an important second line of defense … and this year treatment with anti-viral drugs is especially important.”
While the H3N2 flu strain is the dominant variety, three other strains are also circulating, according to USA Today (12/5, Szabo). The H3N2 strain “has doubled rates of hospitalizations and deaths in the past, especially among older people, very young children and people with chronic health conditions, said Frieden.”
The New York Times (12/5, Mcneil, Subscription Publication) adds that Frieden said “Flu is unpredictable, but what we’ve seen thus far is concerning.” Though H3N2 is not the only strain of virus circulating, the Times writes that “91 percent of the approximately 1,200 samples tested thus far are of the H3N2 subtype of influenza A, Dr. Frieden said,” and “almost all the rest were influenza B.” The Times notes that none of the strains seen so far are descendants of the swine flu virus. Of the H3N2 samples, 45% were of the subtype against which this season’s flu shot does not protect.
The Wall Street Journal (12/5, Mccabe, Subscription Publication) writes that the flu virus mutation has “drifted,” according to the CDC. Dr. Frieden said, “Getting a vaccine that provides at least partial protection may be more important than ever.”
The Los Angeles Times (12/5, Morin) explores the process of developing the flu shot. Because of the delay between when the flu vaccine has to be manufactured and when it is actually administered, the flu virus has ample opportunity to mutate or drift. Manufacturing begins four to six months before the flu season takes off, meaning scientists must guess or predict which virus strain will be dominant.

Fit kids = smart kids

A new study of 9- and 10-year-olds finds that those who are more aerobically fit have more fibrous and compact white-matter tracts in the brain than their peers who are less fit. “White matter” describes the bundles of axons that carry nerve signals from one brain region to another. More compact white matter is associated with faster and more efficient nerve activity. 
The team reports its findings in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
“Previous studies suggest that children with higher levels of aerobic fitness show greater brain volumes in gray-matter brain regions important for memory and learning,” said University of Illinois postdoctoral researcher Laura Chaddock-Heyman, who conducted the study with kinesiology and community health professor Charles Hillman and psychology professor and Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer. “Now for the first time we explored how aerobic fitness relates to white matter in children’s brains.”
The team used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI, also called diffusion MRI) to look at five white-matter tracts in the brains of the 24 participants. This method analyzes water diffusion into tissues. For white matter, less water diffusion means the tissue is more fibrous and compact, both desirable traits. 
The researchers controlled for several variables– such as social and economic status, the timing of puberty, IQ, or a diagnosis of ADHD or other learning disabilities– that might have contributed to the reported fitness differences in the brain. 
The analysis revealed significant fitness-related differences in the integrity of several white-matter tracts in the brain: the corpus callosum, which connects the brain’s left and right hemispheres; the superior longitudinal fasciculus, a pair of structures that connect the frontal and parietal lobes; and the superior corona radiata, which connect the cerebral cortex to the brain stem. 
“All of these tracts have been found to play a role in attention and memory,” Chaddock-Heyman said. 
The team did not test for cognitive differences in the children in this study, but previous work has demonstrated a link between improved aerobic fitness and gains in cognitive function on specific tasks and in academic settings. 
“Previous studies in our lab have reported a relationship between fitness and white-matter integrity in older adults,” Kramer said. “Therefore, it appears that fitness may have beneficial effects on white matter throughout the lifespan.”
To take the findings further, the team is now two years into a five-year randomized, controlled trial to determine whether white-matter tract integrity improves in children who begin a new physical fitness routine and maintain it over time. The researchers are looking for changes in aerobic fitness, brain structure and function, and genetic regulation. 
“Prior work from our laboratories has demonstrated both short- and long-term differences in the relation of aerobic fitness to brain health and cognition,” Hillman said. “However, our current randomized, controlled trial should provide the most comprehensive assessment of this relationship to date.”
The new findings add to the evidence that aerobic exercise changes the brain in ways that improve cognitive function, Chaddock-Heyman said. 
“This study extends our previous work and suggests that white-matter structure may be one additional mechanism by which higher-fit children outperform their lower-fit peers on cognitive tasks and in the classroom,” she said.

Entering Summer…treating sunburn

What dermatologists tell their patients

Even mild sunburn can cause psoriasis to flare. To protect your skin, use a fragrance-free sunscreen. Fragrance can irritate the skin and cause psoriasis to flare.

Dermatologists recommend that everyone, including their patients who have psoriasis, use a sunscreen that offers:

  • SPF 30 or higher
  • Broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection
  • Water resistance

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Thank you, Peanut Butter

Girls who grow up eating PB&Js could be doing their breast health a favor.

Researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School found an association between regularly eating peanut butter and having a lower risk of developing benign breast disease in early adulthood. Benign breast disease is noncancerous, and occurs when there are changes to the breast or an injury or infection leads to lumps in the breast tissue. The research team did not investigate a link between peanut butter and malignant breast lumps or cancer.

Other sources of vegetable fats and proteins — such as soybeans, beans and lentils — could also have the same effect, but researchers noted that the data on these particular foods in the study was not as abundant as data on peanut butter.

It’s important to note that the study only showed an association between peanut butter consumption and breast disease, and doesn’t show that peanut butter can definitively prevent breast disease.

The study, published in the journal Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, included health data on 9,039 U.S. girls ages 9 to 15 who were recruited to the Growing Up Today Study in 1996. They filled out food-frequency questionnaires once a year from their recruitment year until 2001, and then biennially until 2010.

In 2005, researchers also started keeping track of benign breast disease diagnoses among the study participants, who had entered adulthood and were now between ages 18 and 30. Researchers found that 112 of them had developed the condition.

Researchers found that eating peanut butter twice a week during childhood/adolescences was linked with a 39 percent lower risk of developing benign breast disease, and this effect seemed especially strong among girls who had a family history of breast cancer.