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  Press Summaries

May 14, 1999

MMWR articles are embargoed until 4 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday.

MMWR Synopsis
  1. Motor-Vehicle Safety: A 20th Century Public Health Success
  2. Update Influenza Activity — United States and Worldwide, 1998-99 Season, and Composition of the 1999-2000 Influenza Vaccine
  3. Varicella-Related Deaths — Florida, 1998
Notice to Readers: Possible Estuary Associated Syndrome
Fact Sheet:
  1. Chickenpox (Varicella)

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Synopsis May 14, 1999

Motor-Vehicle Safety: A 20th Century Public Health Success
Motor vehicle safety efforts have reduced traffic fatality rates by over 90% since the early decades of this century.

Bruce Jones, M.D., M.P.H.
CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
(770) 488-4652
Since the mid 1960s, rates of motor vehicle deaths have fallen largely due to the production of safer vehicles and construction of safer highways, as well as safer driving behaviors. These changes were implemented by legislation, regulation, and law enforcement. Since the early 1980s alcohol-related deaths have decreased by nearly 40% and the use of safety belts have risen more than five-fold. Despite these successes, however, motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of death among Americans 5 to 24 years old. In the coming century, sustaining the motor vehicle safety record will require intensified efforts to use proven strategies and public health surveillance systems to identify problems and monitor effectiveness.

  Update Influenza Activity — United States and Worldwide, 1998-99 Season, and Composition of the 1999-2000 Influenza Vaccine
Although flu activity is currently at low levels, U.S. physicians should continue to include flu in the differential diagnosis of respiratory illness with fever during the summer months.
Carolyn Bridges, M.D.
CDC, National Center for Infectious Diseases
(404) 639-3747
During the summer outbreaks and sporadic cases of flu can occur. These cases occur particularly among travelers to the tropics or Southern Hemisphere, where flu activity may be at increased levels, or among persons traveling with large international groups. This report summarizes surveillance for flu in the United States and worldwide from October 4, 1998 through April 30,1999. Influenza A (H3N2) and influenza B viruses circulated widely, while influenza A (H1N1) viruses were infrequently reported. In Hong Kong, 2 human influenza A (H9N2) illnesses were identified. H9N2 subtype viruses had previously been known to cause infections only in birds. This report also describes the composition of the 1999-2000 trivalent influenza vaccine for the United States.

  Varicella-Related Deaths — Florida, 1998
All susceptible persons should be vaccinated to prevent chickenpox and its complications.
Jane Seward, M.B.B.S., M.P.H.
CDC, National Immunization Program
(404) 639-8688
Chickenpox, though a common and usually a mild disease of childhood, may result in severe complications and death in both children and adults. During the 5 years prior to licensure of varicella (chickenpox) vaccine in the United States, approximately 100 children and adults died, and about 10,000 persons were hospitalized every year. During 1998, the Florida Department of Health reported 6 fatal cases of chickenpox. Two deaths occurred in children (6 and 8 years of age, respectively) and four in adults (21, 29, 45, and 58 years of age, respectively); none had been vaccinated. Efforts to increase routine and catch-up varicella vaccination among children, teens, and adults should include educating health-care providers and parents that chickenpox is not always a benign disease.

  Notice to Readers: Possible Estuary Associated Syndrome
Amanda Sue Niskar, R.N., B.S.N., M.P.H.
CDC, National Center for Environmental Health
(770) 488-7350
Pfiesteria piscicida (Pp) has been found in waters where there were no reports of harm to fish or people.

Pp is an estuarine alga that lives along the eastern seaboard and has been associated with fish kills and adverse human health effects. CDC has established multistate surveillance and research activities to evaluate the possible public health risks of Pp known as possible estuary associated syndrome (PEAS). Cases are included in the surveillance system as having PEAS if they meet the following three criteria: 1) Developed symptoms within 2 weeks after exposure to coastal waters; 2) Reported certain cognitive or flu-like symptoms of a certain duration; and 3) A health-care provider cannot identify another cause for the symptoms. It has not been possible to establish an association between PEAS and Pp with certainty because a Pp toxin has not been identified. CDC encourages increased research into toxin identification and other environmental factors that influence Pp.

Chickenpox (Varicella)

May 14, 1999
CDC, Division of Media Relations
(404) 639-3286

  • Chickenpox is caused by Varicella zoster virus and is usually mild, but it may be severe in infants, adults and persons with impaired immune systems. Almost everyone gets chickenpox by adulthood (more than 95% of Americans). Chickenpox is highly contagious. The virus spreads from person to person by direct contact, or through the air.
  • Approximately 90% of persons in a household who have not had chickenpox will get it if exposed to an infected family member. The greatest number of cases of chickenpox occur in the late winter and spring.
  • Chickenpox has a characteristic itchy rash, which then forms blisters that dry and become scabs in 4-5 days. The rash may be the first sign of illness, sometimes along with fever and fatigue which is usually more severe in adults. An infected person may have anywhere from a few lesions to more than 500 lesions on their body during an attack (average 300-400).
  • Chickenpox is contagious 1-2 days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs. Chickenpox develops within 10-21 days after contact with an infected person.
  • Adults are more likely to have a more serious case of chickenpox with a higher rate of complications and death.
  • Prior to the availability of chickenpox vaccine in the United States (March 1995), CDC estimated that approximately 4 million cases occurred each year which resulted in about 10,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths from chickenpox.
  • Varicella vaccine is approved for use in healthy children 12 months of age or older, and susceptible (i.e., no evidence of having had chickenpox in the past) teens and adults. Varicella vaccine is highly effective in protecting against severe chickenpox. Cases of disease due to the wild virus, that may occur in a small proportion of vaccinees, are typically very mild with fewer than 50 skin lesions and no fever.
  • The vaccine is also approved for those at high-risk for exposure including teachers, daycare center employees, military personnel, residents and staff in institutional settings, non-pregnant women of child-bearing age, and men living in households with young children. Chickenpox vaccine is also recommended for use in susceptible persons who have been exposed to a case of chickenpox.
  • For more information about chickenpox and other vaccine-preventable diseases, contact CDC's National Immunization Hotline at 1-800-232-2522 (English) or 1-800-232-0233 (Espanol).

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