HEALTH

WHO: H1N1 to be included in next year’s seasonal flu vaccine

BY Michael Johnsen

GENEVA During a press conference held Thursday, the World Health Organization updated the status of the novel H1N1 pandemic and announced that the novel H1N1 influenza vaccine would be incorporated into next season’s seasonal flu vaccine.

The triumvirate vaccine will include protection against the novel H1N1 virus, an H3N2 strain and a type-B virus.

“What the scientists said was that in the past year, the overwhelming number of influenza viruses that were isolated around the world were the pandemic H1N1 virus,” Keiji Fukuda, special adviser to the WHO’s director-general for pandemic influenza, told reporters. “The experts believe based on this information that these viruses will continue to be one of the dominant viruses in wide circulation in the coming fall and winter season in the northern hemisphere.”

However, substituting the pandemic H1N1 virus in place of last year’s seasonal H1N1 inoculation does not suggest that the novel H1N1 pandemic has concluded its course, Fukuda warned. “The recommendation to put the pandemic virus in the upcoming vaccine really means that this has been a dominant virus. And it is expected that it will continue to be a significant virus, circulating around the world as we head into the winter or the coming winter in 2010 and 2011.”

WHO will be convening its Emergency Committee under the International Health Regulations Feb. 23, Fukuda added, noting that the meeting will be both to review the overall epidemiologic and virologic situation, and to provide some guidance to WHO as to whether we can consider ourselves in “the so-called post-peak period.”

The post-peak period is a transition period in which WHO continues to expect to see pandemic activity occur at different levels in different parts of the world, but that the worst has come to pass, Fukuda said. WHO will not be removing the “pandemic” status, however, Fukuda added. “The practical effect of indicating that we are in a post-peak period is really to give a broad signal to the world that even though we may continue to see pandemic activity that we expect that we are transitioning more towards a normal level.”

The highest levels of pandemic activity currently are occurring in parts of Eastern Europe, some parts of Northern Africa and parts of Asia.

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PositiveID acquires Easy Check Medical Diagnostics

BY Michael Johnsen

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. PositiveID on Wednesday acquired the intellectual property rights and assets of Easy Check Medical Diagnostics in an effort to expand its portfolio of noninvasive glucose-level testing products and diabetes management tools under development.

“Existing solutions in diabetes care are painful and have mediocre compliance rates,” stated Scott Silverman, PositiveID chairman and CEO. “With our current portfolio of products under development, we are hopeful we can improve diabetics’ lives while helping them manage their healthy glucose levels, thereby decreasing the risk of diabetes-related complications and reducing medical costs.”

Easy Check presently has two primary products under development: the Easy Check breath glucose detection system and the iGlucose wireless communication device.

The Easy Check breath glucose test is a non-invasive glucose detection system that measures acetone levels in a patient’s exhaled breath. The association between acetone levels in the breath and glucose is well documented, the company noted, but previous data on the acetone/glucose correlation has been insufficient for reliable statistics. Easy Check’s breath glucose detection system combines a proprietary chemical mixture of natrium nitroprussid with breath exhalate, which is intended to create a new molecular compound that can be measured with its patent-pending technology. This product, if approved by the Food and Drug Administration, could eliminate a patient’s need to prick his or her finger multiple times per day to get a blood sugar reading.

Easy Check’s other product under development, its iGlucose system, uses wireless SMS messaging to automatically communicate a diabetic’s glucose readings to the iGlucose online database. iGlucose is intended to provide next-generation, real-time data to improve diabetes management and help ensure patient compliance, data accuracy and insurance reimbursement. In addition, PositiveID believes that the iGlucose wireless communication device is the first to address the Medicare requirement for durable medical equipment manufacturers and pharmacies to maintain glucose level logs and records for the millions of high-frequency diabetes patients.

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New survey finds up to 29 states may cut Medicaid program benefits

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON As many as 29 states said they are considering additional mid-year cuts in provider rates and program benefits for Medicaid, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Thursday. The survey of state Medicaid directors found that 44 states and the District of Columbia are experiencing higher-than-expected program enrollment, resulting in increased spending for fiscal year 2010.

Nearly 3.3 million more people were enrolled in state Medicaid programs in June 2009 compared to the previous June, cited an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured. That marks the largest one-year increase in terms of absolute numbers in recent history, and boosted the June monthly Medicaid enrollment by 7.5% to 46.9 million people.

It also was the first time in decades that every state experienced an increase in Medicaid enrollment, the Foundation stated. And in 32 states enrollment grew at least twice as fast as the year before, according to the analysis, which includes data breakouts by state.

The increase in enrollment reflects the role that Medicaid plays in reducing the numbers of people who become uninsured when the economy falters, with many people turning to the program for help after being laid off and losing their employer-based health insurance.

“State Medicaid programs have been able to help millions of Americans who have nowhere else to turn in a recession,” stated Diane Rowland, EVP of the Foundation and executive director of KCMU.  “But the states obviously face significant fiscal pressures as increases in enrollment push up costs at a time when state budgets are already severely constrained.”

Enhanced federal matching money for Medicaid provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has proved critical in helping states maintain coverage. But that money is scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2010, which will increase the strain on state fiscal year 2011 budgets, Medicaid directors reported.

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