What's New With the Flu?
Since this new strain of flu virus, the H1N1, reared its ugly head and was first detected in the United States in April, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been posting updates on the flu situation. One of the most recent updates indicates that H1N1 is still alive and well and circulating throughout our nation.
It’s still early in the flu season, but visits to doctors for flu-like symptoms continue to increase in some areas of our country, with higher than average levels for this time of year. Additionally, hospitalization rates are on the upswing, too, compared to what is normative for this time of year. Interestingly, hospitalizations for those of younger ages—children 5-17 and adults 18-49—exceed average flu season rates as well.
The CDC says that 37 states report present widespread influenza activity, which is also highly unusual for this time of year. Those states are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.
Perhaps your state is one in the lineup.
The first of the flu vaccinations are arriving, too, but nearly one-third of the parents in an Associated Press poll don’t want their kids to be vaccinated against this circulating flu strain. Parents cite concern about the effects of the vaccine and a belief that this flu strain isn’t any worse than the regular flu.
This flu, however, can turn deadly—“death by cytokine storm” says The Scripps Research Institute. In an illustrated overview, Scripps explains why and how this new flu strain attacks the lungs and sometimes results in death.
They explain that moist air joins with the flu virus and turns lung cells into virus-making factories. This viral invasion pushes the body’s immune system to stop the infection by destroying those compromised cells without destroying the host first.
White blood cells go into high gear, attempting to kill the flu virus. T-cells join in and produce a deluge of cytokines, which cause inflammation. This aggressive response can cause the lungs to become unable to exchange oxygen, and that can lead to death.
John Cannell, M.D., executive director of the Vitamin D Council, says that virologists are concerned with three aspects of any flu viruses: novelty, transmissibility and lethality. Cannell says the current H1N1 strain is, indeed, novel since we don’t have any antibodies to this strain. It’s easily transmitted, too, but its lethality is low, with the exception of Mexico. Cannell believes the lethality of this strain is still anyone’s guess, since a virus’ lethality can change over a short period of time—weeks to months.
As we enter the winter months—notoriously known as flu season—you may want to make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent the flu. That includes staying as healthy as possible, washing your hands often, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth, avoiding others who are sick and staying home if you are ill.
Are You D-ficient?
The results of a study published in the June 2009 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine may cause your heart to flutter.
The study indicates that there is a possible connection between vitamin D levels and heart health—especially in men.† Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc. D., professor of medicine and nutrition, Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health teamed up with some of his colleagues to explore this further.
Their study involved 454 men between the ages of 40 and 75 who struggled in the area of heart health. The researchers then did a comparative with an additional 900 men who were strong in the area of heart health. Their findings were eye-opening.
The researchers believe that their results indicate that adequate dietary levels of vitamin D are correlated with overall heart health in these men.† While more studies need to be done, these findings are encouraging to this team of scientists.
The takeaway? The researchers in this study suggest that sufficient dietary vitamin D intake can have a positive effect on heart health.† That may be interesting news to the three-quarters of teenagers and adults in America who lack enough vitamin D.
James H. O'Keefe MD, cardiologist and Director of Preventive Cardiology, Mid America Heart Institute, Kansas City, Missouri, agrees with this study’s findings. He says, “Vitamin D deficiency is an unrecognized, emerging part of heart unhealth, but vitamin D is easy to assess and getting enough of it is simple, safe, and inexpensive.”†
But that’s not all the heart-stopping studies going on about not getting enough vitamin D and overall heart health. Framingham Heart Study researchers in an article published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association believe that the same vitamin D that can support bone health can also support heart health.†
Assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, Thomas Wang, M.D., was a lead researcher in this study and whole-heartedly believes in the connection between a healthy heart and healthy dietary vitamin D levels. In fact, he believes that vitamin D may play a more important role than what we think.†
In a study of 1,739 offspring from the Framingham Heart Study participants, with an average age of 59, researchers noted a distinct nutritional deficiency as it relates to vitamin D. They say that those who had inadequate vitamin D blood levels were twice as likely to encounter heart issues compared to those who had sufficient vitamin D levels from their diets.†
This is, of course, a new topic in research, so there’s more to be established and examined. In the meantime, when you think about maintaining your heart health, you may want to consider your intake of dietary vitamin D. You don’t want to come up short.