August 21, 2009

Vanquishing Viruses : Pandemic 101 and pursuit of the ultimate vaccine

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School officials are on the edge of their desk chairs over flu season.  Swine flu, also known as H1N1, is coming, along with the usual-suspect viruses, so schools are preparing with everything from teaching “defensive hygiene” to requiring new vaccinations to asking that everyone feeling ill stay at home.

College students are being encouraged to self-isolate if they have flu symptoms, reports Anne Ryman in the Arizona Republic. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the guidelines today as students begin moving into residence halls across the country. The agency would like to keep schools open, and recommends students obtain the fluvaccine when it becomes available in mid-October. (Students, be warned, it may take up to three innoculations, as previously discussed on InvestigateWest.)

Nearly 700 elementary school students in Anchorage were sent home from school Wednesday because they hadn’t received their first round of chickenpox vaccines or didn’t have paperwork to prove they had, reports Megan Holland in the Anchorage Daily News. This is Alaska’s first year implementing the requirement, and many parents either didn’t know about the new vaccine or ran out of time before school started. Elementary school students must be vaccinated for tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Canadian schools plan on emphasizing “defensive hygiene:”Teaching children to properly wash their hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, reports Sheryl Ubelacker of The Canadian Press.

But are we over-vaccinating and sterilizing our kids? Children who aren’t exposed to diseases won’t develop immunity to them.

Scientists say flu is different – it evolves too quickly for anyone to develop complete resistance. They’re currently researching development of a universal flu vaccine that could save half a million people worldwide who die every year from various strains of flu, reports Debora MacKenzie in New Scientist.

– Emily Linroth

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