Flu reaches epidemic level, says CDC
by Sharon Begley
(Reuters) - Influenza has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, with 7.3 percent of deaths last week caused by pneumonia and the flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday.
That is above the epidemic threshold of 7.2 percent, CDC said. Nine of the 10 regions of the United States had "elevated" flu activity, confirming that seasonal flu has spread across the country and reached high levels several weeks before the usual time of late January or February. The other U.S. region, the Southwest and California, had "normal" flu activity last week.
The vaccine against the flu strains that were forecast to predominate this year is 62 percent effective, scientists reported on Friday in the CDC's weekly publication.
That is considered "moderate" effectiveness and means that almost four in 10 people who receive the vaccine and are exposed to the virus will nevertheless become infected.
Experts recommend the vaccine for everyone over 6 months of age. Even if it does not prevent flu, it can reduce the severity of the illness, preventing pneumonia and other life-threatening results of flu.
Public health authorities were correct in their forecast of which flu strains would emerge this season and therefore what vaccine to make: one against influenza A as well as influenza B. An A strain, called H3N2, predominates this season, though the B strain has caused about 20 percent of cases.
"We have a good vaccine but not a great vaccine," Dr. Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan, a co-author of the vaccine-effectiveness study, said in an interview. "Every year we see vaccine failures."
In its weekly flu update on Friday, the CDC reported that 24 states and New York City experienced "high activity" in flu-like illnesses last week. In 16 states flu activity was moderate, while 10 states reported low or minimal flu activity.
The percentage of visits for flu-like illness, 4.3 percent, is comparable to that during the 2007-2008 flu season, which was characterized as "moderately severe" but which peaked some two months later.
A Gallup Poll released on Friday found that 3.2 percent of Americans reported having the flu "yesterday" when they were asked the question in December, higher than in any December since Gallup began asking the question in 2008. That rate is more typical of February.
For its phone survey, Gallup asks 1,000 people each day whether they had the flu the day before, suggesting that the 3.2 percent may be an undercount: people with flu are less likely to respond to a pollster.
Hispanics were more likely than any other ethnic group to be stricken, Gallup found, with 9.2 reporting that they had the flu in December. Americans aged 30 to 44 were the age group most likely to report the flu in December. This is atypical, as reports of the flu generally decline with age, with those aged 18 to 29 usually reporting the most cases.
A total of 20 children have died from flu, up two from the previous week. That compares to 34 during the full 2011-2012 flu season, which was unusually mild, and 282 during the severe 2009-2010 season.
There are no data available on how many children have received flu shots this season, but in the past it has fallen far short of public health experts' recommendation that everyone 6 months and older be vaccinated.
From 2004 to 2009, which included the pandemic-flu year of 2009, fewer than 45 percent of children were vaccinated against the flu, researchers led by Dr. Katherine Poehling of Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., reported this week in the journal Pediatrics.
Attorney for Christmas tree lighting bomb plot suspect says his client is victim
PORTLAND, Ore. – There's no dispute that a 19-year-old Muslim college student tried to set off a car bomb at Portland's 2010 Christmas tree lighting ceremony, but how he reached that point is the crux of his trial that began in federal court this week.
A jury of seven men and nine women will decide whether this was a case of the U.S. government preventing the radicalization of a young Somali-American man, or was instead the FBI's coercion of an impressionable, hotheaded braggart into a plan he was otherwise incapable of carrying out.
'The FBI cannot create the very crime they intend to stop'
- Steve Sady, defense attorney
Mohamed Mohamud's attorneys began to build their case during opening statements Friday, arguing that he was the victim of a sophisticated manipulation by undercover FBI agents.
"In America, we don't create crime," defense attorney Steve Sady said. "The FBI cannot create the very crime they intend to stop. And sometimes, it's just a matter of going too far."
Sady said Mohamud was an impressionable 18-year-old who talked big about carrying out terrorism plots but had neither the means nor the experience to follow through.
That changed, Sady said, when undercover FBI agents posing as jihadist co-conspirators provided Mohamud with a fake bomb in November 2010.
Prosecuting attorney Pam Holsinger said Mohamud was on the path to radicalization, and it was only the FBI's intervention that prevented him from committing terrorism in the U.S. or abroad.
Holsinger pointed to a picture of the estimated 25,000 people at the Christmas tree-lighting event.
"Little did they know that the defendant plotted and schemed for months to kill each and every one of them with a massive truck bomb," Holsinger said.
Given multiple chances to reconsider, Mohamud refused, Holsinger said, intent instead on being a "soldier" in a religious and cultural war with the West.
Even prominent radical Islamic contacts in the Middle East, including the American-born Samir Khan, had to admonish Mohamud against being too violent, Holsinger said.
"Even (Khan) had to tone down the radical and violent message," Holsinger said.
The trial continues Monday with evidence from the prosecution.
Armed Janitors Approved By Montpelier, Ohio, School Board To Stop School Shootings
One of the big questions we've been asking ourselves in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting is what group of warm bodies are going to be flung into the path of the armed-to-the-teeth gunmen of tomorrow. Will it have to be the children themselves? It's been suggested! (The huskier, the better, apparently)
At this point, the most popular proposal seems to be to have armed guards in the schools. If this notion has a problem, it's just a teensy, little practical matter of ... you know -- the fact that it doesn't work . But as always, "stuff that doesn't work" becomes "the best idea" once it becomes clear that all sides want to do it. And "armed guards in schools" fits the bill. The NRA wants more armed guards in schools because their primary focus is helping gun manufacturers sell the guns they manufacture to people, and a whole new workforce that requires firearms would be terrific from their perspective. The White House seems amenable to the idea because it means they get to create jobs and stimulate the economy and also have an extra layer of " CYA -lacquer" on their rear-ends the next time there is a tragedy like this.
Of course, there are a number of reasons why this idea could fall apart despite the fact that both sides of the debate are seemingly open to it. Just off the top of the dome, here are the fault lines that will probably crack under the White House's support for this idea:
|1. It represents tax money going to public schools.
2. It creates more public sector jobs.
3. The people who take those jobs might want to be a part of a labor union.
4. That means union members with guns, so that will be a non-starter.
5. So these armed guards will probably look like the Transportation Security Administration agents you see at the airport.
6. Everybody hates the TSA.
7. In general, the GOP manages to discover how much they've already secretly loathed something within ten minutes of President Barack Obama coming out for it. (See also: Chuck Hagel.)
Fortunately, the people of the Montpelier Exempted Village Schools Board of Education of Montpelier, Ohio, may have hit on the idea that squares this circle:
The Montpelier Exempted Village Schools Board of Education has approved the carrying of handguns by its custodial staff.
The 5-0 vote of the board Wednesday night to allow handgun training for four custodians to be able to tote weapons at the K-12 campus at the Williams County school came after last month's deadly shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
School officials say that having armed personnel -- believed to be the first for any school system in Ohio -- is designed to thwart incidents of violence and prevent what happened in Newtown, Conn., from occurring here.
This solution is almost too perfect. Arming the custodial staff and giving them some minimal training will create almost the same false sense of security as federally-funded rent-a-cops, but without any worry that you are "growing the government" by creating new public sector jobs or showering too much money on public schools. And then, if a deranged gunman attacks the school, it will be up to the school's janitors to bravely throw their bodies in harm's way.
It almost pains me to point out that studies have been conducted that prove that this plan just fails to stop these kinds of assailants. But since sending low-on-the-totem-pole Americans overseas to die for us is working out so great, we may as well give low-on-the-totem-pole Americans the chance to die for us at home, too.
This will catch on, you just watch.
NCPC Visits the Nicaraguan National Police to Share Principles, Techniques and Best Practices of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design
ARLINGTON, VA (PRWEB) -- Nicaragua, previously one of the safer countries in its region, can afford only 18 policemen for every 10,000 people, according to The Economist, and its crime rate is projected to rapidly accelerate in the next few years, perhaps even superseding those of its neighbors. Faced with increasing crime rates and inadequate law enforcement funding, the Nicaraguan National Police has invited the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) of the U.S. to lead training sessions on Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) in Nicaragua.
Embracing this unique opportunity to work positively with law enforcement on a global scale, NCPC will host two five-day training sessions on CPTED on Corn Island and in Bluefields, Nicaragua, Jan. 14-18 and Jan. 21-25, respectively. U.S. police departments, which have also faced increasing budgetary constraints, have encountered great success employing CPTED principles in recent years, and believe the National Police of Nicaragua can benefit from this approach to law enforcement as well.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design calls for collaboration among community residents, municipal leaders, law enforcement, business leaders, and architects, especially in planning stages, to construct physical environments that positively influence human behavior and inhibit crime. The theory is based on four principles: natural access control, natural surveillance, territoriality, and maintenance.
In addition to CPTED, the National Crime Prevention Council trainers will address community policing strategies and encourage community involvement with the Nicaraguan National Police, based on the Council's 30-year history of promoting collaboration between communities and law enforcement.
NCPC's trip to Nicaragua is the beginning of what both parties hope to turn into a long-standing partnership. A partnership where there is an exchange of law enforcement strategies, such as CPTED, to help the National Police of Nicaragua enjoy some of the same success that law enforcement in the U.S. has experienced. More information about CPTED is available at http://www.ncpc.org/training/training-topics/crime-prevention-through-environmental-design-cpted-.
About the National Crime Prevention Council
The National Crime Prevention Council is the nonprofit leader in crime prevention. For more than 30 years, our symbol of safety, McGruff the Crime Dog®, has delivered easy-to-use crime prevention tips that protect what matters most—you, your family, and your community. Law enforcement agencies nationwide rely on our expertise to make an impact on personal safety and crime every day. For more information on how NCPC can be a public safety expert for you or how to “Take A Bite Out Of Crime®,” visit http://www.ncpc.org.
About the NCPC Training Program
The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) delivers training and technical assistance tailored to meet the needs of agencies, communities, and others engaged in crime prevention. Crime trends and effective prevention strategies are constantly evolving, and leaders must have the tools to meet new challenges. NCPC brings together national experts and master trainers to ensure that optimal public safety strategies and reliable data are available to audiences and leaders engaged in creating safer and more caring communities.
NCPC works with communities to identify goals and to design and deliver one-day or multi-day training sessions. It also offers extended technical assistance and facilitates comprehensive community planning initiatives. Its models have been successful in cities across the United States from Seattle, WA, to Spartanburg, SC. For more information on training topics and to organize a training session in your area, visit http://www.ncpc.org/training.