CDC Releases Info on New Norovirus Strain

On January 24, the CDC reported that over 130 cases of the “GII.4 Sydney” norovirus strain had been confirmed in the United States. Also known as the stomach flu, or viral gastroenteritis, the new strain first appeared in Australia in March 2012.

An article in the Washington Post cites the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report as showing that two-thirds of this season’s norovirus outbreaks occurred in long-term care institutions. Thirteen percent involved restaurants.

“There are five main types of norovirus,” according to the article. ”Historically, GII.4 strains are more severe than others.”

The norovirus is very contagious and can be picked up just about anywhere. You can get the virus from eating contaminated food or using utensils that have been contaminated with the virus, from touching contaminated surfaces, and from being around someone who is sick with the virus.

As there are no vaccines that protect one from the norovirus, prevention is the best cure! Washing your hands with soap & water, especially before preparing or eating food is essential and generally better than using alcohol based hand sanitizers as these do not kill viruses.

Medical/Tech groups urge postponement of MU stage 3

According to an article on MedPageToday, leading medical groups have contacted the Department of Health and Human Services, requesting a delay in Meaningful Use Stage 3 implementation.

The medical groups state that many providers continue to struggle with MU Stage 1 and 2 implementation.

“Rather than prematurely impose Stage 3 requirements, HHS should first focus on improving the ability for physicians to achieve Meaningful Use Stage 1 and 2 requirements,” states the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The group requested that the implementation be delayed until 2017. Current regulations are scheduled to take effect in 2016.

Joining the chorus the HIMSS EHR Association submitted comments to HHS that noted their belief that the deadline for MU 3 not only needs to be pushed back but that a change in the focus of the regulations is also necessary. HIMSS believe it would be better to focus on interoperability and the full use of MU 2 requirements before additional technical capabilities mandated.

Clearly this is a legitimate debate to have. There is a real risk that meaningful use incentive payments could direct the development of EHR’ in a negative way by forcing the addition of features and functionality that were not added due to the demand/need of healthcare practitioners but instead were added simply to meet the regulatory requirements.  If this where to happen it would undermine the whole reason for the regulations in the first place- the meaningful use of EHR in particular and of healthcare information technology in general.


Influenza: Digging in its Viral Heels

There’s one word on the minds of Public Heath professionals nationwide—“flu.” According to the CDC, 41 states are reporting widespread geographic influenza activity and some cities, including Boston, have declared a public health emergency.

“We are into what would classically be described as a flu epidemic,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH stated.

This season’s flu is hitting children particularly hard. Over 20 children under the age of 18 have died from complications of the flu.  Thankfully, there are positive trends emerging. It appears that the flu has dropped off in portions of the South and Southeast, according to an article on “[It appears] to have done so because that was where the flu season started earliest,” according a health official interviewed for the story.

View the CDC’s influenza situation update page by clicking here.

Outbreak at Watersedge: Health Outbreak Simulation for Teens

The University of Minnesota’s Public Health Discovery Game, “Outbreak at Watersedge,” simulates an outbreak and challenges players to discover its source. The game, targeted at high school students who might be considering a career in public health, provides an informative glimpse into the analytical, verbal, and communications issues involved in dealing with a critical public health issue.

Another key concept of the game is to demonstrate how public health professionals promote health while working to prevent illness.

The game’s not new—but it does provide valuable insight into a career in public health. And it makes players aware of the general actions taken if and when a public health outbreak occurs.

Give Outbreak at Watersedge a try and let us know how you do!