News Briefs

U.S. flu activity is on the increase, CDC says

Flu activity has risen steadily in the United States since mid-December and does not appear to have peaked, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. The agency strongly encouraged people in flu vaccine priority groups to seek vaccination, noting that flu viruses may continue to circulate for several more months. It said both inactivated flu vaccine and nasal spray vaccine generally are available, though supplies vary by area, and encouraged people to contact their doctor or local health department to learn where vaccine is available.

In addition, CDC said, an inactivated flu vaccine produced by GlaxoSmithKline for use in Europe will become available later this month at clinics in areas of the country where the need for vaccine persists. Once the clinics are identified, information on their location will be available through local and state public health authorities by calling the CDC flu hotline, (800) 232-4636.

CMS announces project to pay for flu medicines

Seniors who get the flu can get assistance to help pay for antiviral medicines under a demonstration project announced by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

"There are prescription drugs that have been proven to prevent the flu and its serious complications, and Medicare is taking steps to make these drugs more affordable," said CMS Administrator Mark McClellan, MD, PhD. "This demonstration program will provide useful evidence on how prescription drug coverage affects the health and costs for Medicare beneficiaries ahead of the drug benefit in 2006."

The demonstration is intended to last through May 31, 2005. Each beneficiary can get up to a total of two prescriptions filled during the demonstration period. The project is designed to help determine if coverage for these medicines can reduce the impact of flu on Medicare beneficiaries, especially those currently without drug coverage.

McClellan said the flu vaccine remains the best protection for Medicare beneficiaries and urged seniors who have yet to be vaccinated to do so. Adults who are 65 and older and other Americans with chronic illnesses are in the high-priority group to obtain vaccines, and there is an adequate supply for these groups. Four antiviral medications (amantadine, rimantadine, oseltamivir, and zanamivir) are approved for treatment of flu.

For detailed information about each medication, including dosage and approved people for use, go to www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/treatment.

California web site offers free resources

California families and caregivers now have even greater resources available to them for making difficult long-term care decisions. An expanded CalNHS.org features detailed information on 834 home health agencies and 172 licensed hospice programs in addition to extensive quality information on the state’s 1,400 nursing homes. The site features new tools and resources to help consumers evaluate the level of long-term care that is needed, find providers, compare quality, and manage important financial, legal, and end-of-life issues. It also includes valuable information on alternative long-term care options. Although the agency-specific information is related to California, the general tools can be used by any consumer. The web site is www.calnhs.org.