Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flu update: May through August

In May, June, July and August 2011, Influenza activity was low in North America, Europe, Northern Asia, Middle East and North Africa. Tepid latitudes of Northern hemisphere remained at baseline inter-seasonal levels.

The 2011 influenza season in South Africa peaked in the end of June. The majority of samples were identified as 2009 H1N1 virus. Flu levels were still moderate in early July but illness activity became low by the end of July.

Dominican Republic, Cuba, Honduras and Brazil observed moderate activity (peak was in the end of June/beginning of July). Columbia had active circulation of 2009 H1N1 virus, but there were no new cases in July and August. Illness levels in Peru and Bolivia also returned to low levels.

Flu activity in August was low in countries of Western Africa (Ghana, Cameroon and Senegal), and Southern Asia (India, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Singapore).  Google flu trends predicted increased activity for South Africa and Chile in June-July and Uruguay in July-August. WHO data showed that flu levels returned to low in South Africa, but started to increase for Chile, Uruguay and Argentina marking the peak of the season.

In Australia, influenza-like illness consultations and laboratory-confirmed cases continue to increase.
The flu season started in the end of April, rates slightly declined in mid May but kept increasing since.  The most common virus was influenza A(H1N1)2009 but influenza B was also prevalent, unevenly distributed across the country.

According to the ESR Kenepuru Science Centre and the WHO, flu incidents in New Zealand increased from mid-May through the end of July, but decreased during the first two weeks of August. ILI activity in New Zealand remained around expected levels and the majority of viruses detected have been influenza B.

See the latest CDC  Global and WHO updates for more.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Allergy seasons in Germany

Seasonal allergies in Germany are typical for central Europe.The Federal Office for Nature Conservation (Bundesamt für Naturschutz or BfN) divides the country into 73 geographical regions that are in three major zones: German Plain in the north, the German Upland in the central region and the German Highlands in the south. National parks of Germany are famous for their woodlands. Mueritz National Park is rich with conifer woods, oak and beech trees. Nature lovers also appreciate elm, ash, larch and birch making the country very colorful and vibrant.

Unfortunately, these beautiful plants could also bring sneezing, wheezing, and runny nose. According to this report by BfR, around 12 % of 13-14 year-olds and 14 % (Erfurt) and 22 % (Hamburg) respectively of 20 up to 44 year old adults suffer from seasonal rhinitis or hay fever in Germany. The incidence has increased in recent years. East Germany resident are affected less than those in West Germany. Among those born from 1942 to 1951, 19.8 % (West Germany) and 11.7 % (East Germany) of people had hay fever; in the birth cohorts 1952 to 1961 the figures were 21.5 % (West) and 12.9 % (East). In the birth cohorts 1962 to 1971 the number of hay fever sufferers was as high as 26.8 % (West) and 14.7 % (East).

Here is an approximate 2011 calendar (based on data by University of Berlin and Institute of Meteorology) showing high and lows for Hazel, Alder, Birch trees, Rye grass and other pasture grasses, and weeds such as Mugwort and Ambrosia (common ragweed widespread in North America).   
Allergies depend on sun, wind and rain, so fluctuate every year. Compare, for example, these grass pollen data collected for 1998, 2000 and 2003 (data from the German archive).