by Dr. Iain Corness
Phuket launches offensive?
The Australian government is so
concerned about their death toll from the annual influenza epidemic that
they have once again included a Phuket strain in the 2016 vaccine. This is
in addition to the home grown Brisbane strain.
The Brisbane and Phuket strains of the virus contributed to the 25,000 spike
in reported cases, explained the Australian Health Minister Sussan Ley. To
combat the increase from 65,000 cases to 90,000 cases, Australians will have
access to the upgraded vaccine through the National Immunization Program.
In Thailand, from Jan 1 to Feb 23 this year, the Department of Disease
Control (DDC) reported 10,032 confirmed cases of the flu, with eight deaths.
According to Thailand statistics, a total of 30,024 people throughout the
country contracted Type A H1N1 influenza virus last year and 50 of them
died. Influenza is an important disease, especially as many Thai people do
not have much immunity to the seasonal influenza.
All these statistics were backed up by the World Health Organization (WHO)
which reported that in tropical Asia, countries in Southern and South East
Asia reported low influenza activity overall - except India, Lao People’s
Democratic Republic and Thailand where activity mainly due to A(H1N1)pdm09
virus in India and A(H3N2) virus in Lao PDR and Thailand continued to be
In South Asia and Southeast Asia, a decrease in influenza activity was
observed during August and September, and influenza A (H3N2) predominated in
Cambodia, India, China, and Vietnam, with smaller numbers of influenza B
viruses reported. In Thailand, influenza B viruses were more frequently
reported in July and August, but influenza A (H3N2) and pH1N1 viruses also
were identified during May 1–June 27, last year.
All these figures show that the influenza virus is present all year round,
and the 2016 quadrivalent vaccine is planned to cover two A strains of
influenza (California and Hong Kong) and two B strains of influenza
(Brisbane and Phuket).
So, what can you do about avoiding a full-blown influenza infection this
year? In one word – vaccinate! My hospital has published some of the
important facts about Flu vaccination. While how well the flu vaccine works
can vary, there are still many good reasons to get a flu vaccine each year.
Quite simply, flu vaccination can keep you from getting sick from flu.
Protecting yourself from flu can help protect people who are at greater risk
of getting seriously ill from flu, like older adults, people with chronic
health conditions and young children.
Flu vaccination may also make your illness milder if you do fall ill. A
recent study showed that flu vaccine reduced young children’s risk of
flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74 percent
during flu seasons from 2010-2012. One study showed that flu vaccination was
associated with a 71 percent reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among
adults of all ages and a 77 percent reduction among adults 50 years of age
and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.
There are special vaccination instructions for children aged 6 months
through to eight years of age as some children require two doses of
influenza vaccine. Children in this age group who are getting vaccinated for
the first time, as well as some who have been vaccinated previously, will
need two doses. Your health care provider can tell you whether two doses are
recommended for you.
Vaccination is so important that he Government Pharmaceutical Organization
(GPO) will construct the country’s first facility to make influenza vaccine
in Saraburi’s Kaeng Khoi district, with production set to start in early
Following the Cabinet’s approval of the GPO project on Tuesday, Public
Health Minister Rachata Rachatanavin said the facility would meet the World
Health Organization’s manufacturing standards.
After undergoing lab tests and getting an okay from the Food and Drug
Administration, the vaccines would be made available to public, he added.
Initially, the facility is expected to produce 2 million doses per year, but
that could rise to 10 million doses annually, or 60 million dosages in case
of a pandemic.
In some quarters there is resistance to influenza immunization, but to be
honest, I cannot understand why. Sure, there are risks involved with
immunization, but those risks are very, very small compared to the risks in
getting the flu.
Time for an annual check-up?
It may be of interest to know that
my hospital gives me a check-up package. Is it just a PR exercise? Or is
it an exercise that will benefit both the employee (me) and the hospital
itself? (I hope you all chose the latter one!)
My annual medical check-up is an important part of my planning for the
future, a future with a good Quality of Life. Check-ups are inherently
involved in the Quality of Life. Longevity alone, with no quality, just
isn’t worth it in my book.
Many people work on the principle that they would rather not know about
any underlying or sinister medical conditions they may have. After all,
we are all going to die one day, aren’t we? I have always said that
despite all advances in medical science, the death rate will always be
the same – one per person! But wouldn’t you rather have pleasant final
years than one of poor health, infirmity and aches and pains?
The guiding principle behind check-ups is to find deviations from normal
health patterns at an early stage. Early enough that the trend can be
reversed, before damage has occurred. Examples of this include Blood
Pressure (BP), as high BP can affect many organs in the body, not just
the heart. But an elevated BP generally gives no warning symptoms.
Another example is blood sugar. Again, it requires sky-high sugar levels
before the person begins to feel that something might be wrong. And by
then the sugar levels have affected vision, the vascular system and many
other systems, all of which can decrease your future Quality of Life.
Amputation of a limb is a common result of unchecked blood sugar levels.
Cardiac conditions and abnormalities, be that in anatomy or function,
can also very adversely affect your Quality of Life, but are very easily
found during a routine check-up. Various blood tests and an EKG can show
just how well the cardiac pump is functioning, and how well it will
continue to function in the future. The inability to walk more than 50
meters certainly takes the fun out of shopping, yet this can be
predicted – if you have some serial records!
Another of the silent killers can be discovered in your lipid profile,
with Cholesterol and its fractions HDL and LDL, being intimately
connected with your cardiac status.
Let me give you an example. A younger man who was obviously overweight,
but played golf three times a week and had no apparent problems. He
enjoyed his golf, and the beers at the 19th hole. Just like his
overweight golfing mates.
This chap’s blood tests were not so good, and his diabetic tendency was
now more than just a tendency. Despite the fact that he was not having
chest pains, he decided to have the 128-Slice CT of the coronary
arteries carried out. This showed three blockages. Three corrective
stents later he could return to the golf course, but with urgent
recommendations to get his weight down and get his blood sugar and
cholesterol under control.
There are actually so many conditions that can affect your enjoyment of
the future that can be discovered early. Renal (kidney) function and
liver function can be monitored through an annual check-up, as can
prostate size (indicated by the PSA blood test) or breast tumors (by
Hopefully you are now thinking about an annual check-up. If so, I have
some very good news for those of you living in, or planning to visit
Pattaya. The Bangkok Hospital Pattaya has repeated their previous annual
promotional packages with big discounts on check-up packages (up to 60
percent for some individual items, though the check-up packages
themselves are generally at 50 percent off).
Even better news is that the discount program continues through to 29
February, 2016, however you must pay by 31 December 2015, to be able to
get this huge discount.
I do urge you to take advantage of this, for your enjoyment of the
future, if nothing else. This is a genuine offer, and does give everyone
the opportunity of ‘preventive medicine’. Catch anything early and you
have given yourself the chance to correct it – and get a better Quality
of Life in the forthcoming years.
Now it’s going bananas
There are so many “breakthroughs” every
week, I am flat out reading the scientific journals. In fact there are so
many researches going on that they are producing even more journals!
The latest “amazing” development is the claim that a drug made from a
protein in bananas can kill a wide range of viruses – including hepatitis C,
flu and AIDS.
The new wonder compound is called BanLec and it supposedly works by clinging
to sugar molecules found on the surface of some of the world’s deadliest
Once the drug has locked on to the virus, it is rendered harmless – and can
easily be disposed of by the body’s immune system.
The new form of BanLec, called H84T, stopped animals from getting flu. It
also worked in the lab on tissue and blood samples against AIDS, hepatitis C
The researchers believe the drug may even work on Ebola, as all of these
viruses are covered in similar sugar molecules that BanLec clings to.
However, they warn that eating regular bananas will not have the same
beneficial effect, as the ingredient is a modified version of the chemical
found in the fruit.
The chemicals (called Lectins) have the potential to be a virus beater as
they are able to bind to the sugars that are present on the surface of a
range of viruses including HIV, influenza and Ebola, many of which have
caused or have the potential to cause severe epidemics or even pandemics.
The key question now, the researcher stressed, was whether the drug will
work in humans. Dr David Markovitz, professor of internal medicine at the
University of Michigan said, “There are lots of hurdles that still need to
be overcome before antiviral Lectins find their way into clinic,” he said.
“For one thing, there’s a risk the immune system will recognize this as
foreign and mount an immune response to it, potentially rendering it
Dr David Markovitz, co-author of the scientific paper, published in the
journal Cell, said, ‘What we’ve done is exciting because there is potential
for BanLec to develop into a broad spectrum anti-viral agent - something
that is not clinically available to physicians and patients right now.”
“But even so, given recent events, generating antivirals that can work
against a range of viruses is well worth pursuing.” However, several years
of research still lie ahead before BanLec can be tested in humans.
Despite this, Dr Markovitz and his co-author, Dr Hashim Al-Hashimi,
professor of biochemistry at Duke University, hope the team’s work can help
address the lack of antiviral drugs that work well against many viruses - or
against viruses that change rapidly, such as influenza.
“Tamiflu is only modestly effective, especially in critically ill patients,
and influenza can develop resistance to it. But we also hope that BanLec
could become useful in situations such as emergency pandemic response, and
military settings, where the precise cause of an infection is unknown but a
viral cause is suspected.’
“Better flu treatments are desperately needed,” said Dr Markovitz.
British researchers such as Professor Wendy Barclay, chair in influenza
virology at Imperial College, London, called it ‘a new strategy for
combating a wide range of viruses’ and ‘beautiful science’.
Dr Ben Neuman, a virologist at the University of Reading, said, “In this new
study, the researchers changed the banana lectin just enough to stop the
side effects, while keeping its virus-blocking properties intact.”
And Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of
Nottingham, added, “Each new virus outbreak is a timely reminder of our need
for antivirals that can work against a range of viruses.”
But, whilst viral infections are important, remember that according to the
WHO, cancer killed around eight million people worldwide, and was the
leading cause of death globally. Lung cancer was the most lethal type, and
accounted for 18 percent of all cancer deaths. And finally, don’t smoke –
the incidence of all cancers is greater in smokers.
Unfortunately, even though we understand more of the nature of cancer, there
is no universal “cure” as yet. However, catching cancers at an early stage
gives you a much better prognosis (outcome). And you can only do that if you
look. Check-ups are of value.