Flu season symptoms: Sniffles, body aches, and finger pointing (5×8 – 1/11/13)

Blame the media flu season begins, who stole Richard Landers, the legend of Flight 90, when the phone call comes, and fun in coffee shops with old men.


As with the three stages of grief, there are several stages to any crisis and we have now reached the “media blew it bigtime” stage of the flu epidemic.

Media Drops the Ball,” The Daily Beast crows today. Why didn’t the media tell us the flu was coming?

So what went wrong? One alarming possibility is that this year’s vaccine against influenza is not well matched to the current disease-causing strains. This exposes a significant problem in the modus operandi of influenza-vaccine production–it’s mired in techniques and approaches developed before World War II; in fact, soldiers from that war were among the first to get this brand of vaccine. Here’s how it works: each year, around February, world experts select from a menu of dozens just three influenza strains–two of flu A and one of flu B–to place into the coming season’s vaccine. More than three would require a shot with too large a volume and might blunt the body’s immune response. Once selected, the three viruses are grown painstakingly, on hen’s eggs (what year is this?). Then, after a big-enough crop has been raised, the virus is killed, stabilized, and sent around for injections–all on the hope that the experts guessed right.

Yes, that is one possibility, except for the part about it being wrong. In Minnesota, the Department of Health reports the flu vaccine that everyone got — OK, not everyone, just the smart ones — is the one aimed at the strain that’s making people ill.

The article, however, acknowledges this fact, then says “but some” clinicians wonder if it’s really true? The “infectious disease expert” who authored the article provides no attribution of whom these clinicians are, nor any quotes from them. And the seasoned journalist recognizes the reality that the rookie journalist tries to hide: it’s him.

One would assume he’d know that an influenza vaccine doesn’t work as well as other vaccines. Never has. Ninety-percent effective is considered pretty good. On average in recent years, it’s been 60-percent effective (Source: Dr. Thomas Frieden, director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

The article continues…

Despite all of this activity, flu, until the last day or two, hasn’t been much covered by the media, which usually love scary flu tales. I mean, this is not just an outbreak this year, but a real outbreak. Where is everybody? All right, there are a few hyperventilatory articles, including one about a “tent city” popping up outside a community hospital in Pennsylvania. Only a close read, though, reveals that the hospital had created an annex to swiftly and safely evaluate those with possible flu while keeping them apart from other patients who had not yet begun to sniffle. Those hoping to read about a “tent city” like that used in the great 1918 pandemic will surely be disappointed at the sight of the bulbous drapes raised in a lone parking lot.

Is the flu bad? Yes, it’s bad. But in the NewsCut Cubicle, we take our cues to panic over public health from Mike Osterholm of the Minnesota Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance. Nobody is better at suggesting the end of the world is just ahead of us.

On Diane Rehm’s show on NPR yesterday, Osterholm said, “I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as what has been portrayed in the media… This is not a severe flu season. It could be much worse.”

Wait! What?

He calls what’s been portrayed so far, “hype.”



What to do about the grandparents who stole a child? Apparently, there’s a possibility the answer will be “nothing.”

Richard Wayne Landers Jr., was 5 when his grandparents stole him from his mom. He’s 24 now, married, and expecting his first child. His mother, the Associated Press says, is “jumping up and down for joy” when word reached her that he was found living in Long Prairie.

The grandparents, using aliases, live in Browerville, MN.

The Indianapolis Star provides additional information today. The boy was mostly raised by the grandparents since right after he was born. And the man appears to know what happened to him.

Still, the Star says, it’s unclear exactly how this all got unraveled…

Jason Brown, editor and publisher of the weekly Long Prairie Leaders, said the story wasn’t yet know in the community. And he was still trying to figure out who the people involved are — that is, under what names they had been living and how long they had been there.

A tidbit that might be coincidental or might be a clue: Of the 38,000 to 39,000 residents in LaGrange County, about 40 percent are Amish, Sheriff Martin said. The Landerses are not Amish, but Brown said his Minnesota community also has a significant community of Amish and Mennonite residents.

Russell said he wasn’t sure what the elder Landers did for a living, but before they disappeared, they were popular locally for their Christian music performances and appeared at festivals and churches.

“I’m just very happy that it all came to a pretty good conclusion,” he said, alluding to the tragic ends of some missing child cases. “I’m happy they just found out where they are at.”

More family matters: “That’s when I knew I was adopted.” (StoryCorps)


The rain-turning-to-ice in the Upper Midwest today might make for challenging times at the area airport. Delays so far are minor but de-icing takes a toll and in weather like this there could be the occasional flight cancellation.

It’s tempting to seethe over these things, but this is a good time to remember why airlines and the FAA are so much more concerned about icing conditions than they once were.

It was 31 years ago this Sunday that they got an education at great expense…

More weather: “Let’s face it, we’re becoming another Des Moines,” Sam Cook at the Duluth News Tribune says.


“It is the moment–the late night phone call, the unexpected knock on the door,” writes Audrey Kletscher Helbling of Minnesota Prairie Roots, conveying the sad story of Tom and Nina Hedin. Tom was seriously injured in a snowmobile accident last weekend.

He’s only been with his current employer for six months, so he doesn’t qualify for benefits under the Family Leave Act, she says.

So she’s rallying readers and other bloggers to step in to help.


Meanwhile, it was a typically depressing day in an unemployment office in Spain this week…

The moment of sunshine was brought to people by a local radio station. Moments of sunshine usually are.

More old men at coffee shops: It was a tough year in West Concord (Rochester Post Bulletin)

Bonus I: The dinosaur kid. Third-graders are cool because they don’t yet realize what’s not possible.

Bonus II: I wonder how the small businesses in Cooperstown feel about not having an induction ceremony in town this summer?


A bill introduced in the Minnesota Senate this week would impose a sales tax on clothing purchases of more than $200. Minnesota is one of only a half-dozen states that exempt clothing from their sales taxes. Today’s Question: How would you react to a sales tax on clothing?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Friday Roundtable with local political reporters.

Second hour: Authorities in Ramsey County are following runaways as part of a new approach to fighting juvenile prostitution.

Third hour: Friday Roundtable with members of the House and Senate tax committees and a former state finance commissioner about tax and budget issues.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Chris Farrell interviews Minneapolis Federal Reserve president Narayana Kocherlakota about the prospects for the economy in 2013.

Science Friday (1-2 p.m.) – Can we kill cancers by attacking their genetic weaknesses? Ira Flatow looks at how doctors are using genetics to uncover new ways to treat cancer patients. Plus, can a routine pap test be used to detect uterus and ovarian cancers, too? Then, what should you do with your old electronics?

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – Mexican drug cartel violence prompted many people to flee the city of Juarez. Despite the murders and brutality, Father Kevin Mullins stayed put, and never left his parishioners. NPR profiles the priest who wouldn’t leave.

The 17-year-old girl was terrified as she called 911 from a downtown St. Paul hotel, where she was held captive by her pimps. The Des Moines teen ran away from home and hopped onto a bus to Minnesota after being lured by a man on the Internet. The Ramsey County Attorney’s office says about a third of juvenile runaways, as young as 12, are sexually exploited. We’re looking at efforts among law enforcement to specifically target and intervene in the lives of runaways. In the case of the Iowa girl, both of her captors were convicted of sex trafficking, but are only serving year-long sentences. The case points to the challenges in prosecuting trafficking cases. MPR’s Laura Yuen will have the story.

Mayo Clinic researcher Tyler Koep and his colleagues are working to determine how common, store-bought humidifiers may help in the annual battle against the flu. In mid-to-late January, when flu season is expected to peak, the researchers will go to two Rochester elementary schools, install a few dozen humidifiers, and directly measure the effects of humidification on airborne influenza. Earlier tests on influenza found on surfaces at the school found humidifiers lowered the viruses survival rate from 70 to 30 percent. If they can measure similar results on airborne influenza, Tyler believes this could represent a practical, real-world solution to minimizing the flu at central hubs like schools and not relying on other behavioral preventative measures like washing hands, coughing into arm, getting flu shot, etc. MPR’s Elizabeth Baier will report.