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Senior hospitalizations also up during 2012-13 onslaught, U.S. health officials say
WebMD News from HealthDay
By Steven Reinberg
THURSDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) — This past flu season started earlier, peaked earlier and led to more adult hospitalizations and child deaths than most flu seasons, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.
At least 149 children died, compared to the usual range of 34 to 123, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The predominant strain of flu circulating in 2012-13 — H3N2 — made the illness deadlier for children, explained Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist with the CDC.
“With children H3 viruses can be severe, but there was also a lot of influenza B viruses circulating . . . and for kids they can be bad, too,” she said.
Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, added that H3N2 is easily transmitted from person to person and has a high rate of complications, which accounts for the increased hospitalizations.
“This is the kind of flu that enables other infections like pneumonia,” he said. “Really what people need to know is that flu isn’t the problem. The flu’s effect on the immune system and fatigue is the problem.”
The flu season started in September, which is unusually early, and peaked at the end of December, which is also unusual, Siegel said.
Flu season typically begins in December and peaks in late January or February.
Texas, New York and Florida had the most reported pediatric deaths. Except for the 2009-10 H1N1 flu pandemic, which killed at least 348 children, the past flu season was the deadliest since the CDC began collecting data on child flu deaths, according to the report, published in the June 14 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Older adults were targeted heavily by the 2012-13 flu. Those aged 65 and older accounted for more than half of all reported flu-associated hospitalizations in the 2012-13 flu season — the most since the CDC started collecting data on flu hospitalizations in 2005-06, the agency reported.
In addition, more Americans saw a doctor for flu than in recent flu seasons, the CDC noted.
The flu vaccine was well matched to the circulating strains, but less effective than health officials had hoped. In January, the CDC reported that the vaccine was about 60 percent effective, which meant it offered “moderate” protection from the flu.
Siegel said even a moderately effective vaccine is better than not getting vaccinated at all because flu symptoms will be milder, with a lower chance of complications.
According to Brammer, decisions about the vaccine for this coming season were made in February so manufacturers could make a sufficient supply for fall. The makeup will be basically the same as the 2012-13 vaccine with some tweaks to some of the strains so they better match changes in the viruses, she said.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated. The agency urges people at higher risk for severe disease — including young children, pregnant women, anyone with a chronic health problem and the elderly — to get the vaccine.
Don’t make any assumptions about the course of next season’s flu based on the recent past, these experts added.
“I wouldn’t assume next year’s flu season is going to be milder or that it’s going to be early,” Siegel said. “The flu is unpredictable.”
Because the 2012-13 flu season started several months earlier than usual, the CDC also advised doctors to consider influenza as the source of respiratory illnesses that occur beyond the typical flu window.
MONDAY June 17, 2013 — A diet high in saturated fat can quickly rob the brain of a key chemical that helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.
In a small study published online Monday in the journal JAMA Neurology, researchers found that dietary saturated fat cut the body’s levels of the chemical apolipoprotein E, also called ApoE, which helps “chaperone” amyloid beta proteins out of the brain.
“People who received a high-saturated-fat, high-sugar diet showed a change in their ApoE, such that the ApoE would be less able to help clear the amyloid,” said research team member Suzanne Craft, a professor of medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
Amyloid beta proteins left loose in the brain are more likely to form plaques that interfere with neuron function, the kind of plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Diet also directly affected the amount of loose amyloid beta found in cerebrospinal fluid, Craft said. Those on a high-saturated-fat diet had higher levels of amyloid beta in their spinal fluid, while people on a low-saturated-fat diet actually saw a decline in such levels, she said.
“An amyloid that is not cleared — or attached to ApoE to get cleared — has a greater likelihood of becoming this toxic form,” Craft said.
The clinical trial, led by Dr. Angela Hanson of the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System in Seattle, involved 20 seniors with normal cognition and 27 with mild thinking impairment, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
The patients, all in their late 60s, were randomly assigned to diets that contained the same amount of calories but were either high or low in saturated fat. The high-saturated-fat diets had 45 percent of total energy coming from fat, and more than a quarter of the total fat came from saturated fats. The low-saturated-fat diets had 25 percent of energy coming from fat, with saturated fat contributing less than 7 percent to total fat.
After just a month, the diets caused changes in the amounts of amyloid beta and ApoE in the study participants’ cerebrospinal fluid, researchers said.
“Diet can really change levels of these toxic proteins and of these mediators that help clear these amyloids,” Craft said. “Diets that are very high in bad cholesterol seem to interfere with ApoE’s ability to clear amyloid.”
One gerontology expert, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study in the journal, didn’t think the link was quite that clear.
Although the study shows that diet can affect brain chemistry, it does not definitely tie diet to a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s disease, said Dr. Deborah Blacker, director of the Gerontology Research Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
“Is it plausible to say this could affect the risk of having Alzheimer’s pathology in your brain? It’s not showing that,” said Blacker, who also is with the Harvard School of Public Health. “It’s showing that some of the chemicals related to Alzheimer’s pathology can shift in response to dietary factors.”
The study does, however, offer important insight into the value of good nutrition, she said.
“The important lesson from the study is that dietary intervention can change brain amyloid chemistry in largely consistent and apparently meaningful ways, in a short period of time,” Blacker wrote in the editorial. “Does this change clinical practice for those advising patients who want to avoid dementia? Probably not, but it adds another small piece to the growing evidence that taking good care of your heart is probably good for your brain too.”
People focus on diet in terms of weight and heart health, but they overlook that nutrition can be key to cognitive function as well, Craft said.
“Diet is a very underappreciated factor in terms of brain function,” she said. “It’s quite well accepted for your heart and your cholesterol and your blood, but diet is critical for a healthy brain aging. Many of the things the brain needs to function properly — fatty acids, certain amino acids — come only from food.”
For more on a healthy diet for the brain, visit the Alzheimer’s Association.
Posted: June 2013