Roundup: CDC Urges Flu Shots as Vaccination Rate Declines; 'Morning Sickness' Linked to Lower Risk of Miscarriage

U.S. health officials are urging all Americans to get their flu shots as soon as possible after releasing statistics that show fewer people are getting vaccinated.

Officials are most concerned that not enough older adults are getting vaccinated against the influenza virus.

“Flu is serious. Flu is unpredictable. Flu often gets not enough respect,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If we could increase vaccination coverage in this country by just 5 percent, that would prevent about 800,000 illnesses and nearly 10,000 hospitalizations.”

Frieden spoke yesterday during a media briefing hosted by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).

The CDC and other infectious disease specialists are especially worried about a recent drop in seasonal flu vaccinations. About 45 percent of the U.S. population got vaccinated against the virus last year, which was down 1.5 percentage points from the previous year.

The largest decrease was among people age 50 and older. There was a 3.4 percentage-point decline among people ages 50 to 64, and a 3.3 percentage-point drop among those ages 65 and older. The elderly are among those most vulnerable to life-threatening complications from the flu.

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible, the CDC recommends. Influenza activity most often begins to rise in October and November. Flu activity usually peaks between December and March, but can last as late as May.

While most people who get the influenza virus generate relatively mild side effects, the disease can lead to tens of thousands of deaths during severe flu seasons, Frieden noted, especially among those who are most vulnerable. About 100 children die each year from the flu.

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‘Morning Sickness’ Linked to Lower Risk of Miscarriage

“Morning sickness” refers to those unwelcome symptoms for many pregnant women that include nausea and vomiting. But for women with a history of miscarriage, experiencing such discomfort can bring higher odds of a successful pregnancy, according to a new U.S. study.

The study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) involved about 800 pregnant women with at least one or two prior miscarriages. All of the women had pregnancies confirmed by lab tests and they were about 29 years old on average at the start of the study.

The findings provide the strongest evidence to date that nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is associated with a lower risk of miscarriage in pregnant women, said the study’s first author, Stefanie N. Hinkle, Ph.D, a staff scientist in the Epidemiology Branch for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), which is part of the NIH.

It has been a commonly held belief that nausea is an indicator of a healthy pregnancy, “but there wasn’t a lot of high-quality evidence to support this belief,” she said.

“Our study evaluates symptoms from the earliest weeks of pregnancy, immediately after conception, and confirms that there is a protective association between nausea and vomiting and a lower risk of pregnancy loss,” said Dr. Hinkle.

Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is often called “morning sickness” because these symptoms typically begin in the morning and usually resolve as the day progresses. For most women, nausea and vomiting subside by the fourth month of pregnancy. Some women may have these symptoms for the duration of their pregnancies. The cause of morning sickness is not known, but researchers have proposed that it protects the fetus against toxins and disease-causing organisms in foods and beverages, according to the NICHD.

The women who were part of the study daily diaries noting their bouts of nausea and vomiting during the second through the eight week of their pregnancies. They then responded to a monthly questionnaire on their symptoms through the 36th week of pregnancy.

The study’s authors noted that most previous studies on nausea and pregnancy loss were not able to obtain such detailed information on symptoms in these early weeks of pregnancy. Instead, most of studies had relied on the women’s recollection of symptoms much later in pregnancy or after they had experienced a pregnancy loss.

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Exercise Improves ‘Mobility Disability’ in Older Adults

New research has found that sedentary older adults who take up an exercise routine significantly reduce their risks of disabilities that affect mobility.

The main activity that the older adults in the study performed was moderate walking, which has been linked to lower risks of developing diabetes, certain cancers, depression and heart disease.

Between February 2010 and December 2013, 1,635 sedentary patients between the ages of 70 years and 89 years from across the United States were evaluated. These patients had functional limitations, but could walk 400 meters (1,312 feet) unassisted. The investigators characterized “major mobility disability,” or MMD, as the inability to walk 400 meters.

Results published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed a “significantly reduced proportion” of patients with MMD in the physical activity group, compared to those in the group that did not engage in regular exercise. The burden of MMD was substantially lowered by 25 percent on average in the physical activity group, the study’s authors said.

Thomas Gill, the study’s lead author and a geriatrics professor at Yale School of Medicine, said the intent of the study was to assess how a structured physical activity program affected the number of elderly patients who showed signs of MMD.

“Prescribing exercise may be just as important as prescribing medications — perhaps even more important in some cases,” Gil and colleagues wrote in an accompanying editorial. “However, clinicians need training, tools and support for this effort. It is time for medical schools to start preparing students to prescribe exercise as effectively as they prescribe statins (cholesterol-fighting drugs), and for health systems to support physicians in addressing inactivity just as they provide support in addressing other health risks.”

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