August 31, 2009

Bank Failures in the U.S.

Problem Banks Rise to 15-Year High on Bad Loans, FDIC Says

August 27, 2009

Bloomberg - The U.S. added 111 lenders to its list of “problem banks” in the second quarter, a 36 percent increase that pushed the group to a 15-year high.

A total of 416 banks with combined assets of $299.8 billion failed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.’s grading system for asset quality, liquidity and earnings, the most since June 1994, the Washington-based FDIC said in a report today. Regulators didn’t identify companies deemed “problem” banks...

The surge in failures prompted the agency to charge the industry an emergency fee in the second quarter to raise $5.6 billion to replenish its insurance fund, which fell to $10.4 billion as of June 30 from $13 billion in the previous quarter, the agency said. An $11.6 billion increase in loss provisions for bank failures caused the decline in the fund, the FDIC said.

FDIC-insured banks reported a net loss of $3.7 billion in the second quarter, compared with a $5.5 billion gain in the first quarter. The loss, the second quarterly one the industry has reported in 18 years, was driven by increased expenses for bad loans, the FDIC said...

The FDIC insures deposits at 8,195 institutions with $13.3 trillion in assets. The agency is a state-bank regulator that insures bank customer deposits, helps find buyers for failing banks and liquidates lenders that have collapsed.

The agency this week approved new guidelines for private- equity firms that invest in failed banks to increase the pool of buyers beyond traditional lenders and reduce costs to the banking industry and taxpayers.

1,000 Banks to Fail in Next Two Years: Bank CEO

August 27, 2009

CNBC - The U.S. banking system will lose some 1,000 institutions over the next two years, said John Kanas, whose private equity firm bought BankUnited of Florida in May.
“We’ve already lost 81 this year,” Kanas told CNBC. “The numbers are climbing every day. Many of these institutions nobody’s ever heard of. They're smaller companies.”
Failed banks tend to be smaller and private, which exacerbates the problem for small business borrowers, said Kanas, who became CEO of BankUnited when his firm bought the bank and is the former chairman and CEO of North Fork bank.
“Government money has propped up the very large institutions as a result of the stimulus package,” he said. “There’s really very little lifeline available for the small institutions that are suffering.”
This comes at a time when the FDIC has established new rules on bank sales. Private equity, for instance, would have to hold double the capital of their competitors in order to buy such an institution, said Kanas.
“This will have somewhat of a chilling effect on our participation,” he said. “As a result of having to keep higher capital levels, we’ll see lower prices coming from that sector.”
Of the 81 failed banks this year, two have been successfully acquired by private equity, he said. Kanas’ private equity firm bought UnitedBank, the failed Florida-based bank, from the FDIC in May. Regulators also allowed the sale of IndyMac Bank of California earlier this year.
“We are seeing more people step up and lobby bids in this situation,” he said. “We’re seeing more players mostly as a result of being attracted to the sector. I’m not so sure that will continue now that the rules have been ratchet it up.”
Meanwhile, much of the commercial realty problem resides in the regional and small community banks, said Kanas, because larger banks haven’t fueled that sector in the past.
“The market is expecting about the way we were expecting,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re not seeing any evidence of a recovery in the real estate market in the southern Florida market,” he said.

Analyst Bove Sees 150-200 More U.S. Bank Failures

August 23, 2009

Reuters - A prominent banking analyst said on Sunday that 150 to 200 more U.S. banks will fail in the current banking crisis, and the industry's payments to keep the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp afloat could eat up 25 percent of pretax income in 2010.

Richard Bove of Rochdale Securities said this will likely force the FDIC, which insures deposits, to turn increasingly to non-U.S. banks and private equity funds to shore up the banking system.
"The difficulty at the moment is finding enough healthy banks to buy the failing banks," Bove wrote.
The FDIC is expected on August 26 to vote on relaxed guidelines for private equity firms to invest in failed banks, after critics said previously proposed rules were too harsh and would actually dissuade firms from making investments.

Bove said "perhaps another 150 to 200 banks will fail," on top of 81 so far in 2009, adding stress to the FDIC's deposit insurance fund.

Three large failures this year -- BankUnited Financial Corp. in May, and Colonial BancGroup Inc., Guaranty Financial Group Inc. in August -- collectively cost the fund roughly $10.7 billion.
The fund had $13 billion at the end of March.

Regulators closed Guaranty's banking unit on Friday and sold assets of the Texas-based lender to Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA. The FDIC agreed to share in losses with the Spanish bank.

Bove said the FDIC will likely levy special assessments against banks in the fourth quarter of this year and second quarter of 2010.

He said these assessments could total $11 billion in 2010, on top of the same amount of regular assessments. "FDIC premiums could be 25 percent of the industry's pretax income," he wrote.

As of Friday, August 14, 2009, FDIC is Bankrupt

August 15, 2009

Mish's - Bank Failure Friday is in full swing. Tonight there were 5 more failures, numbers 73 through 77 on the year. In the biggest failure since WaMu, BB&T takes Over Colonial.

Colonial BancGroup Inc., the Alabama lender facing a criminal probe, had its banking operations closed by regulators and taken over by BB&T Corp. in the biggest bank failure since Washington Mutual Inc. collapsed last year.

Branches and deposits of Colonial, Alabama’s second-largest bank, were turned over to Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based BB&T in a deal brokered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the regulator said today. The failure of Montgomery-based Colonial followed a Florida expansion that saddled the lender with more than $1.7 billion in soured real-estate loans.

Colonial’s failure will deplete the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund by $2.8 billion, the agency said. The fund, which the agency uses to pay customers of a failed bank for deposit losses up to a $250,000 limit and is generated by fees paid by banks, stood at $13 billion at the end of the first quarter, according to the FDIC. The agency has set aside an additional $25 billion for bank failures, agency spokesman David Barr said.

Tonight, inquiring minds are asking "Is There Any Money Left In The Fund?"

For clues, please consider Saxo Bank Research FDIC’s Shrinking Deposit Insurance Fund – A Testimony of Current Accounting Standards.

As late as in the end of April just before the release of the bank stress tests, Ms. Bair Chairman of the FDIC said they would not need any additional bailouts from the U.S Treasury within the immediate future according to The Bulletin. After three new bank failures last Friday, the FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) diminished by another $185 million for a total remaining balance of $648.1 million.

The old insurance limit with a maximum coverage of $100.000/account has been changed to cover up to $250.000/account until January 1st 2014. Estimates say that the change increases the deposits covered under FDIC insurance to approximately $6 trillion in total.

So, what does that imply? Basically it means that when valuating any U.S bank, their assets should probably be marked down significantly relative to their book value, much because of how they nowadays are allowed to manipulate their balance sheets in order to appear more solvent than they in fact are.

Friday, In reference to Colonial, Shelia Bair made the following galling claim:
"The past 18 months have been a very trying period in the financial services arena, but the FDIC and its staff have performed as Congress envisioned when it created the corporation more than 75 years ago," said FDIC Chairman Sheila C. Bair. "Today, after protecting almost $300 billion in deposits since the current financial crisis began, the FDIC's guarantee is as certain as ever. Our industry funded reserves have covered all losses to date. In fact, losses from today's failures are lower than had been projected. I commend our staff for their excellent work in assuring once again a smooth transition for bank customers with these resolutions. The FDIC continues to stand by the nation's insured deposits with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. No depositor has ever lost a penny of their insured deposits."
Nowhere does "Shelia the Fool" state the cost of this insurance. Without FDIC, banks like Colonial, Bank United, Corus Bank, and possibly even banks like Washington Mutual would have failed long before they mattered.

By offering above market rates on CDs, those bank attracted plenty of capital to the detriment of banks lending responsibly. In order to offer high rates on CDs and deposits, the banks had to take high risks.
Bank United and Corus Bank funded all sorts of risky housing projects including condo towers in the biggest bubble cities. Colonial Bank is under investigation for Fraud.

No one in their right minds would have deposited money at those institutions without FDIC. And if they did it should be their problem not yours or mine.
There were no bank failures for a very long time during the credit boom. Thus, FDIC insurance seemed to work very well for a while. The reality is such schemes always produce fat tails...

Colonial BancGroup Becomes Biggest Bank Failure of 2009

August 15, 2009

MarketWatch - Colonial BancGroup Inc. has become the largest bank failure this year as the 2009 toll of financial institutions approaches 80.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation seized the struggling Alabama-based lender Friday and sold it to BB&T Corp.

Late Friday, the FDIC announced four other banks had been closed: Community Bank of Nevada and its Arizona subsidiary, Community Bank of Arizona; Union Bank, Gilbert, Ariz; and Dwelling House Savings and Loan Association, Pittsburgh.

The Colonial BancGroup deal will knock roughly $2.8 billion off a pool of money, known as the Deposit Insurance Fund, which the FDIC maintains to guarantee bank customer deposits.

BB&T agreed to assume all of Colonial's deposits, which totaled about $20 billion at the end of June, the FDIC said. Depositors of Colonial will automatically become depositors of BB&T and customers can continue accessing their money by writing checks or using ATMs and debit cards, the regulator stressed.

Colonial had $25 billion in assets at the end of June. That makes it the largest bank failure this year, exceeding the collapse of Florida's BankUnited Financial, which had less than $13 billion in assets.

BB&T agreed to buy about $22 billion of Colonial's assets. The FDIC said it will hold on to the rest - about $3 billion worth - and will try to sell them later.

The FDIC and BB&T will share losses on $15 billion of Colonial's assets. Loss-sharing deals have become common since the financial crisis struck last year, as the FDIC tries to encourage more stable banks to take over failing institutions.

This year, 78 banks have failed this year as a lingering recession and surging unemployment leaves the industry nursing heavy loan losses. More than 1,000 banks may fail during the next three to five years, RBC Capital Markets estimated in February.

The FDIC estimated Friday that the Colonial deal will cost its Deposit Insurance Fund about $2.8 billion. The regulator recently imposed a one-time assessment on banks to top the fund up. However, the surge in bank failures has increased concern about the fund, despite the fact that the FDIC can borrow hundreds of billions of dollars from the Treasury Department if it needs to.
Today, after protecting almost $300 billion in deposits since the current financial crisis began, the FDIC's guarantee is as certain as ever," FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair said in a statement late Friday. "Our industry funded reserves have covered all losses to date. In fact, losses from today's failures are lower than had been projected."
Shares of Colonial dropped 12% to 41 cents before trading was halted Friday morning. BB&T shares jumped more than 9% to close at $28.43.

BB&T, with more than $150 billion in assets, is seen by some analysts as a beneficiary of bank failures. Many closures have happened in the Southeast of the U.S., where BB&T is a dominant player...

BankAtlantic Reports $38.4 Million Loss, the Latest in a Series of Losses

August 11, 2009

Miami Herald - BankAtlantic Bancorp., which has chalked up a string of losses, plans to raise fresh capital by offering up to $100 million in common stock at a discount to existing investors...

In July, BankAtlantic, weighed down by troubled real estate loans, reported a net loss of $38.4 million, or $3.41 a share, for the second quarter, the latest in a series of losses. That was nearly double the loss that the company recorded for the same period of 2008 when it posted a net loss of $19.4 million, or $1.73 per share.

Despite the big losses, BankAtlantic remains well-capitalized under all regulatory measures. In addition, the parent pumped $5 million into the bank in the second quarter, fortifying the bank's capital position.

Levan said Monday the bank is no longer interested in TARP funds. Last month, Levan said he assumed the bank was ineligible for funds from the Treasury Department under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, because the federal government typically hasn't considered giving TARP funds to institutions that have deferred-interest payments on trust preferred securities, as BankAtlantic has opted to do.
"The whole process is a mystery," Levan said of TARP. "We submitted an application and we never heard from Treasury."

Toxic Loans May Push 150 Banks to Point of No Return

August 14, 2009

Bloomberg - More than 150 publicly-traded U.S. lenders own nonperforming loans that equal 5 percent or more of their holdings, a level that former regulators say can wipe out a bank’s equity and threaten its survival.

The number of banks exceeding the threshold more than doubled in the year through June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as real estate and credit-card defaults surged. Almost 300 reported 3 percent or more of their loans were nonperforming, a term for commercial and consumer debt that has stopped collecting interest or will no longer be paid in full.

The biggest banks with nonperforming loans of at least 5 percent include Wisconsin’s Marshall & Ilsley Corp. and Georgia’s Synovus Financial Corp., according to Bloomberg data. Among those exceeding 10 percent, the biggest in the 50 U.S. states was Michigan’s Flagstar Bancorp. All said in second- quarter filings they’re “well-capitalized” by regulatory standards, which means they’re considered financially sound...

Private Equity Firms Exploiting Financial Crisis and Buying Up Failed Banks Cheap

As More Banks Fail, Private Investors Gain Favor

August 25, 2009

The Associated Press - With the toll of bank failures surging, regulators are expected Wednesday to ease rules they proposed only last month for private investors seeking to buy failed institutions.

Private equity funds have been targets of criticism in recent years for their risk-taking and outsized pay for managers. But the depth of the banking crisis appears to have softened the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.'s resistance. In part, that's because fewer banks are now willing to buy other, ailing institutions.

In July, when bondholders rescued commercial lender CIT Group Inc., it marked the first time since the crisis erupted last fall that private investors had saved a big financial firm without federal aid or oversight.

Rising loan defaults, fed by tumbling home prices and worsening unemployment, have hammered banks. Eighty-one have failed so far this year. The closings have drained billions from the FDIC deposit insurance fund, which insures regular bank accounts up to $250,000 and is financed with fees paid by U.S. banks.

The FDIC estimates bank failures will cost the fund around $70 billion through 2013. The fund stood at $13 billion — its lowest level since 1993 — at the end of March. It's slipped to 0.27 percent of insured deposits, below a congressionally mandated minimum of 1.15 percent.

The FDIC seizes failed banks and seeks buyers for their branches, deposits and soured loans. Under the crush of failures, the agency says private equity can inject vitally needed capital into the system, especially with fewer healthy banks looking to acquire failed institutions.
"There's an enormous need for private money to do this," said Josh Lerner, a professor of finance at Harvard Business School. "There's the sense that you have a lot of money which is currently sitting on the sidelines."
A potential "sweet spot" for private equity buyers are banks with $5 billion to $20 billion in assets, said Chip MacDonald, an attorney at Jones Day in Atlanta. Falling within that range was BankUnited FSB, a Florida thrift with $12.8 billion in assets that closed in May. BankUnited was sold for $900 million to a group of private equity investors that included billionaire Wilbur Ross ' firm, without the new FDIC policy being in effect.

Private equity firms tend to buy distressed companies, slash costs and then resell them a few years later. They invest their own capital to buy a company and pump it up with money from other investors.

Such "leveraging" to buy companies amounts to, on average, three-to-one for private equity firms: They invest $3 in outside capital for each $1 they put up themselves. The roughly 2,000 private equity firms in the U.S. have around $450 billion in capital to invest, according to the Private Equity Council, the industry's 2-year-old advocacy group.

Investors in private equity funds include pension funds, university endowments and charitable foundations.

Organized labor still denounces private equity as vultures and job-killers. Unions got a sympathetic ear from many Democrats in Congress in 2007, when several key lawmakers pushed to raise taxes for managers of private equity firms as well as hedge funds. That tax campaign stalled.

The private equity industry is exploiting the economic crisis to enrich itself, said Stephen Lerner, director of the private equity project at the Service Employees International Union.
"They are trying to use their political and financial sway to get into what they see as bargain basement prices for very little risk."
But with the financial crisis and recession causing banks to fail at the fastest pace since the height of the savings-and-loan crisis in 1992, support is building among regulators to use private equity money to bolster the industry.
"We want nontraditional investors," FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said in early July, when the agency proposed its rules. "There is a significant need for capital, and there is capital out there."
When the FDIC board meets in a public session Wednesday, it's expected to ease restrictions, people familiar with the issue say. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the rules haven't been made public in final form yet.

Regulators also have begun to reach overseas.

On Friday, the FDIC seized Guaranty Bank, a big Texas lender, and sold most of its operations to the U.S. division of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, Spain's second-largest bank. Guaranty was the second-biggest U.S. bank to fail this year, with about $13 billion in assets. Its sale marked the first time during the crisis that a foreign bank had bought a failed U.S. institution.

In the FDIC policy as proposed, the most important requirement is for private equity investors to maintain enough cash in the banks they acquire, as measured by its capital leverage ratio. The ratio is a measure of health, reflecting a bank's capital divided by its assets.

Investors would have to maintain a ratio of at least 15 percent for three years. Most banks have ratios lower than that. Citigroup Inc., for example, had a reported ratio of around 9 percent as of June 30. The mandate could be reduced to 10 percent or lower in the final rules, the people familiar with the issue say.

A private equity role in the FDIC's resolution of failed banks would be in addition to private investors' participation in a Treasury program to buy banks' bad mortgage-backed assets. That program is intended to relieve banks of up to $40 billion of these assets, whose value plummeted with real estate prices.

But some analysts question whether this program will provide much benefit. Rising unemployment and loan defaults appear to have surpassed soured bank securities as threats to the financial sector.

Some of the Bank Bailout Funds Went Into Private Bank Accounts

August 28, 2009

Watson's Web - Now let me tell you something you do not know and not even the 'forward leaning' Alex Jones is going to tell you. Some of this bailout money (loans to banks) went directly into private banking accounts and never got to where Congress intended for it to go. Let me say it again: some of this money went into PRIVATE accounts. That is why Bernanke was given another term at the Fed. He will continue to cover it all up. It is not that Obama wanted to re-appoint him - the recipeints of all of that loot (to their personal accounts) are still getting lots of money and wanted him to stay...

The criminal corruption of the past eight years will not only continue, but accelerate under Obama. He may want to do the right thing but it is politically impossible.

No one on the net really understands just what is going on - there are a couple of voices out truly in the wilderness (you probably never heard of them) and in wacky news groups who know what is happening. And no I am NOT talking about the vast majority of your prophecy sites - these can be of use if the men and women are really hearing from the LORD, but most aren't - they are big phonies who are looking for a following.

It may surprise some of you to know that some real government 'heavy hitters' go out there into the far reaches of the internet from time to time and pose as 'Nostradamus' or 'Thor, bringer of light' or the 'Third Incarnation of St. Beranadette' and drop tidbits of info for anyone who is brave enough or open minded enough to listen. Oh yes, they do.

But for the most part, the Blogosphere is becoming a tamed lion - lots of unused potential by sites who have put growth over truth. They merely extrapolate their own conjectures from an AP or Reuters wire story and refuse to do a little digging on their own. Fortunately, there are some people in the government with some integrity who will share information with those who will listen. Most of these big time sites are not really interested in the truth, just traffic.

I am different here. I am here to get as much truth out as I can to any who will listen - God's people first and the rest who will listen. I do not care about growth and could care less about revenue. Money is a most dangerous slavemaster. I would rather be poor and serve God than be rich and have a million hits a day. I serve another God - Christ Jesus is his name - and will do this job as long as I am able and he commands.

I have been able to get a decent following of serious Christians and powerful people here for a reason.

The truth is the most valuable commodity in Washington and in America; and even insiders and even a few policy wonks have come to trust the analysis on this site.

Joe sixpac? If he can't drink it, smoke it or have sex with it, he just isn't interested.

FDIC Revises Rules to Favor Takeover of Banks By Private Equity Firms

August 27, 2009

Reuters - U.S. banking regulators partially retreated from a much-criticized proposal to impose new rules on private equity investment in troubled banks, aiming to encourage investments in distressed bank assets.

The 4-1 vote by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp board was a partial victory for some regulators and potential investors who had warned that an initial proposal unveiled in July threatened to scare away much-needed capital.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair said the modified rules could still depress investor interest in failed banks but the guidelines needed to be strict enough to weed out irresponsible investors. "The FDIC recognizes the need for additional capital in the banking system," she said, but added: "We do want people very serious about running banks."

A capital requirement for private equity investments in banks was lowered to a Tier 1 common equity ratio of 10 percent, from the 15 percent Tier 1 leverage ratio previously proposed.

The regulators also dropped a requirement that investors serve as a "source of strength" for the bank they buy, which critics said could have put them on the hook for more capital if the institution struggled.

A cross-guarantee proposal -- meaning if an investor owns more than one bank, the FDIC can use the assets of the healthier bank to cut losses from the one that has faltered -- was modified to only include investors that had an 80 percent common ownership of the two banks.
The rules will be further reviewed in six months.

U.S. bank regulators are increasingly looking to nontraditional investors -- such as private equity groups and international banks -- to nurse failed banks back to health as the number of insolvent institutions continues to rise, draining the FDIC's deposit insurance fund.

Regulators have shuttered 81 banks so far this year, compared with 25 last year, and three in 2007.

"On the whole, it's favorable to private equity. It's positive in terms of attracting private equity money," said Brett Barragate, a partner with the Jones Day law firm.

The dissenting vote was from acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, John Bowman, who said the revised policy was overly broad and imprecise. He also expressed unease at singling out private equity investors as a separate group.

Voting for the rules were Bair, FDIC Vice Chairman Martin Gruenberg, FDIC Director Thomas Curry and Comptroller of the Currency John Dugan. Dugan had raised concerns in July about the initial version of the rules, but said he supported the new guidelines, describing them as "significantly improved."

The FDIC on Wednesday also voted to extend by six months a program that guarantees transaction deposit accounts, which businesses typically use to meet payroll and pay vendors. "It has improved overall liquidity throughout the banking system," Bair said.

The agency also said it would seek comment about whether to phase in the impact on banks' capital requirements of an accounting change that requires institutions to bring off-balance sheet assets back on their books.

U.S. Regulators See Vote Later Today on Bank Investments

August 26, 2009

Reuters - U.S. regulators are still finalizing guidelines for private equity investments in distressed banks but expect to have a final vote on the issue later on Wednesday, the acting director of the Office of Thrift Supervision said.
"We're still in the process of discussions on what that document will look like," John Bowman told reporters during a briefing on the earnings of the thrift industry.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, which includes Bowman among its board members, is expected to soften the private equity guidelines first proposed in July, in an attempt to attract more investors to the assets of distressed banks.

FDIC to Loosen Rules for Private-Equity Firms to Take Over Banks

August 25, 2009

Bloomberg - The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is poised to make it easier for private-equity firms to buy banks after the fastest pace of bank closings in 17 years cost the agency’s insurance fund more than $21 billion.

The FDIC board meets tomorrow in Washington and probably will lower the requirements for private investors to buy failed lenders after a proposal made in July sparked opposition from the industry. The agency needs new bidders as bankers avoid buying failed lenders, forcing the FDIC to share losses or take other steps that deplete its insurance fund.
“There are a lot of private-equity bidders that have been waiting to see how this rule plays out,” Mark Tenhundfeld, senior vice president at the American Bankers Association, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “As modified, I think private equity is likelier to want to get back in the game.”
Banks are collapsing at the fastest pace since 1992, with 81 failures so far this year, as losses mount on unpaid real- estate debt. The failures have cost the FDIC’s deposit insurance fund an estimated $21.5 billion this year. The agency may impose an emergency fee in the third quarter -- sooner than planned -- to replenish the fund, the second such assessment this year.

The modifications may lower to 10 percent from 15 percent the Tier 1 capital ratio private-equity investors must maintain after buying a bank, Tenhundfeld said. Tier 1 ratios measure a lender’s ability to withstand losses and new banks must maintain at least 8 percent to be deemed well capitalized.
“It is a proposed rule,” FDIC spokesman Andrew Gray said in a telephone interview. “The purpose of the comment period is to get feedback from all stakeholders and refine the proposal based on that.”
The FDIC has twice brokered deals with investor groups this year. In March, California-based IndyMac Federal Bank was sold to investors led by Steven Mnuchin, an ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker, and including buyout firm J.C. Flowers & Company. Florida’s BankUnited Financial Corp. was sold in May to firms including Blackstone Group and WL Ross & Co.

Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who leads a subcommittee overseeing the securities industry, wrote in May to FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke asking them to spell out rules for investments in banks so private investors can’t take advantage of U.S. assistance.

The FDIC is a state-bank regulator that insures consumer deposits at lenders, finds buyers for institutions on the verge of collapse and unwinds them after they fail. The agency in July gave the industry 30 days to comment on the guidelines and tomorrow plans to release modified rules based on the feedback.

The capital requirement as proposed “is onerous” and would eliminate interest from private-equity investors, Douglas Lowenstein, president of the Private Equity Council, a Washington-based industry group, wrote in an Aug. 6 comment letter to the FDIC.

The FDIC also may drop the cross-guarantee provision, which would require a private-equity firm with investments in more than one failed bank to provide guarantees for losses based on its level of investment in each of the institutions, said Joseph Lynyak, a partner specializing in banking at Venable LLP in Washington.
“It’s an open-ended loss guarantee that I don’t think anybody is willing to accept,” Lynyak said of the proposal.
Even with the changes, private-equity firms may be reluctant to participate out of concern the government could modify the rules later, Lynyak said.

From Wikipedia:

According to an updated 2009 ranking created by industry magazine Private Equity International (published by PEI Media called the PEI 300), the largest private equity firm in the world today is TPG, based on the amount of private equity direct-investment capital raised over a five-year window. As ranked by the PEI 300, the 10 largest private equity firms in the world are:

Goldman Sachs Principal Investment Area
The Carlyle Group
Kohlberg Kravis Roberts
Apollo Global Management
Bain Capital
CVC Capital Partners
The Blackstone Group
Warburg Pincus
Apax Partners

Additionally, Preqin (formerly known as Private Equity Intelligence), an independent data provider, ranks the 25 largest private equity investment managers. Among the larger firms in that ranking were AlpInvest Partners, AXA Private Equity, AIG Investments, Goldman Sachs Private Equity Group, and Pantheon Ventures.

For One Billion You Get...

U.S. hedge fund and private equity managers have been taking their income as capital gains, and paying tax at a 15 percent rate instead of the normal income tax rate of 35 percent. The Democratic Congress has taken up the issue. Why should the $1-billion-a-year earner pay a smaller percentage of tax than a regular worker? - Duncan Cameron July 5, 2007

Editor's Note: The invisible money power behind these secretive private equity firms are the same international bankers that engineered this worldwide banking crisis, with the goal of consolidating the world's wealth into their hands.

U.S. Regulators Prep Defenses to Survive Bank Crisis

August 25, 2009

Reuters - U.S. regulators are set to buttress their defenses this week against a slew of sick banks still facing closure and the risks to the dwindling fund that protects depositors.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp has been looking at expanding the pool of potential bidders for distressed banks, providing some capital relief for troubled assets that will soon be brought back onto banks' books, and charging further industry premiums to replenish the insurance fund.

Regulators have shuttered 81 banks so far this year, compared with 25 last year, and three in 2007. Analysts say the wave of failures is far from over. Richard Bove of Rochdale Securities said on Sunday that 150 to 200 more U.S. banks will fail in the current banking crisis, which started with a dramatic fall in housing prices that sent the economy into a recession and caused many borrowers to default on their loans.

Bove said the continuing failures will force the FDIC to turn increasingly to non-U.S. banks and private equity funds to shore up the banking system.

On Wednesday the FDIC will hold a board meeting to vote on guidelines aimed at attracting private investment money to distressed banks while ensuring the investors are serious about nursing these institutions back to health. The agency will likely relax the previously proposed guidelines after critics derided them as overly strict and predicted a chilling effect on investment.

The agency will also vote on a rule that will ask banks if they need some capital relief associated with an accounting change that will bring more than $1 trillion of assets back on their books next year.

On Thursday, the FDIC holds its quarterly briefing that provides critical information about its outlook for bank failures and the state of the deposit insurance fund.

The meetings will come on the heels of two large bank failures that resulted in multibillion-dollar hits to the deposit insurance fund. The largest bank failure of the year landed on August 14, when the FDIC announced that Alabama-based Colonial Bank had been closed and its assets sold to BB&T Corp. Colonial had total assets of $25 billion and is expected to cost the FDIC insurance fund $2.8 billion. This past Friday, the FDIC announced Texas-based Guaranty Bank failed, and that Spain's BBVA was buying its assets. Guaranty, which had $13 billion in assets, drained another $3 billion from the insurance fund.

Paul Miller, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, said there will be a "drip, drip, drip" of bank failures over the next year but he does not see any more failures of the same magnitude as Colonial. "For the number of bank failures, we're in the first couple of innings. For the size, we're in the late innings," Miller said.

The insurance fund has been drained to its lowest level relative to deposits since 1993, largely because the FDIC must pull out money for expected bank failures over the next year. The fund's balance stood at $13 billion as of March 31, compared to $53 billion a year earlier.

The agency will provide an update on Thursday about how much more money has been drawn, and if the outlook for future bank failures has worsened.

The FDIC in May raised the expected loss for the insurance fund to $70 billion over the next five years from $65 billion.

Officials are likely to reiterate on Thursday that they will have to exercise their option to charge banks further special premiums to bolster the fund. Regulators are still wary of tapping the FDIC's $500 billion line of credit with Treasury. FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair has said she is reluctant to ask taxpayers to temporarily put up money to cover the cost of failures, and would rather have the industry cover the insurance costs.

In May the FDIC voted to impose a 5 basis-point levy on each bank's assets, which equals a $5.6 billion fee that the industry has to pay in the third quarter. The FDIC also voted to give itself the option to collect additional special fees in the fourth quarter of 2009 and first quarter of 2010.

August 30, 2009

Electronic Surveillance and Biometrics

Tenants Fuming as Flats Turned into ‘Big Brother House’ with 112 CCTV Cameras Installed Inside

August 29, 2009

Daily Mail - Furious tenants say security cameras have turned their flats into a huge Big Brother house.

It comes after a housing trust installed up to 112 CCTV cameras in their eight three-storey blocks and pointing towards residents’ front doors.

People living there say the move is an invasion of their privacy and fear they will be spied on 24 hours a day.

Tenant Phillip Mays, 44, was one of the first to be affected after a camera was installed outside his flat.
He said: ‘They’ll be able to sit watching who comes and goes into each of our flats 24 hours a day.

‘If we were in prison we could expect security like that, but not in our own home.

‘It’s like Big Brother on TV, watching us all day. It’s a breach of our civil rights and privacy.’
Residents living in the flats in Torquay, Devon, first heard about the CCTV in July when the Riviera Housing Trust wrote to them. The housing association explained the cameras would be installed to monitor and manage anti-social behaviour and crime on the estate.

Most welcomed it, but now that work has begun, they have learned the extent of the cameras – up to 112 at a cost of more than £375,000. And they have also being told they will have to pay an extra £2 a week in rent to pay for it.

Mother Donna Brook, 32, was recently burgled and sees the need for cameras – but on the outside of the flats, rather than the inside.
She said: ‘They [the cameras] can see every person coming and going through everyone’s front door. ‘It is an invasion of our privacy.’

And another mother, Jenny Goldsworthy, 34, who has lived in Pendennis Road for 12 years, said: ‘I think it’s terrible. I can’t do anything any more. I feel like we have been invaded.’

Resident Kevin Gaskell, 52, said: ‘The people round here are trying to deal with problems in a civil way, without breaking any laws, and that doesn’t give Riviera Housing Trust the right to come and stuff cameras in here and charge us for the privilege.’
But not everyone is totally against the move. Steve Brinsley, 50, who has lived on the estate for 28 years, said:
‘I don’t like the way the government are recording everyone, but I am willing to accept a bit less freedom for a bit more safety and peace of mind.

‘In the 28 years I have been here there have been children lighting fires in the hallways and causing damage.

‘I have been burgled twice and if CCTV had been installed it would have caught them.’
The head of Riviera Trust’s neighbourhood services, Elizabeth Heatley, said the cameras were an ‘added safety measure’ and will be in communal areas only to help deter incidents of vandalism or anti-social behaviour which have been a problem for residents in the past.

She said that residents were consulted and the Trust took on board their feedback.
‘We are unable to provide exact locations and numbers of CCTV cameras as we believe it would compromise the security of the residents.

‘We do, however, want to reassure residents that Riviera staff members will only gain access to view the footage should there be an incident regarding criminal activity, anti-social behaviour or vandalism.

‘We are keen to gather feedback from our residents once works have been completed to see how they are getting on with the new security features’.
She said that work was including new doors, electrically operated door systems, fire alarms, and floor coverings, as well as the CCTV cameras.
‘We see this as a positive step for residents and it is designed to make them feel more safe and secure in their homes. If they have any concerns or queries we are only too happy to talk to them and discuss them further.’
Resident Philip Mays admitted there had been problems on the estate but that 90 per cent of them were sorted out among residents themselves.
‘These cameras will stop people socialising together. When we associate, we will be watched.’

Fibre Optics to Detect Sound of Terror and Protest

August 21, 2009

Independent - Scientists have perfected a new technology that can transform a fibre optic cable into a highly sensitive microphone capable of detecting a single footstep from up to 40km away.
Guards at listening posts protecting remote sensitive sites from attackers such as terrorists or environmental saboteurs can eavesdrop across huge tracts of territory using the new system which has been created to beef up security around national borders, railway networks, airports and vital oil and gas pipelines.

Devised by QinetiQ, the privatised Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), the technology piggybacks on the existing fibre optic communication cable network, millions of miles of which have been laid across.

Trials have already been staged in Europe to use the OptaSense system, which evolved out of military sonar and submarine technology, on railways to prevent vandals or thieves trespassing on high-speed lines as well as to counter terrorism. It has been deployed by several blue chip oil companies to protect energy pipelines which run through some of the most lawless and remote regions of the world.

...It is hoped the technology will be rolled out to enhance security arrangements at prestige sites, among them Heathrow’s Terminal 5 or the Olympic Games and to protect major gatherings of world leaders such as during the G8, which has become an increasing magnet for protest movements.

The system works by picking up tiny seismic waves detected under the ground by the fibre optic cable which carries an optical pulse sent from a central computer. Virtual “microphones” created remotely every 10 metres along the cable register the vibrations through the ground. The patterns caused by the disturbances are then matched to digitally pre-sampled sounds such as footsteps, cars or diggers and the information fed back to a command centre where security personnel are able to deploy drones or even armed response teams to check out the threat.

The system is sensitive enough to detect sounds 40km away, along the line of the cable. It can also pick up sounds perpendicular to the cable: the sound of someone approaching on foot 30 metres away or a vehicle 50 metres away.

At present, the microphones are not able to pick up the sound of human speech. Magnus McEwen-King, managing director of OptaSense, said:
“We take a standard telecoms cable and, without changing its structure, install our technology to create thousands of virtual microphones along the length of the cable.

“What you get is an intelligent hearing device, buried underground, which can monitor borders, perimeters or property for intruders. Optasense not only detects but identifies an approaching threat and alerts you to the location so that you can take necessary action to prevent intentional or accidental damage.

“People are amazed when they see that it can be configured to tell different types of vehicles apart? or tell if a person is walking or running towards the area you are monitoring.”

Company Developing Under-the-Skin Devices to Detect ‘Bio-Threats’

August 22, 2009

WorldNetDaily - A Florida-based company that boasts selling the world’s first and only federally approved radio microchip for implanting in humans is now turning its development branch toward “emergency preparedness,” hoping to produce an implant that can automatically detect in its host’s bloodstream the presence of swine flu or other viruses deemed a “bio-threat.”

VeriChip Corporation currently sells a small, under-the-skin Radio Frequency Identification capsule, or RFID, that patients can opt to have implanted, containing a number computer-linked to their medical records, enabling doctors with a special reader to access the information even if the patient is unconscious or unidentified. The company boasts its microchip, roughly the size of a grain of rice, is the only such implant approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But VeriChip has also turned its attention to other uses for the technology, including microchips that be used to tag and log human remains after a disaster and implants the company hopes will be able to warn if their host is infected with the H1N1 swine flu virus, the H5N1 bird flu virus or other pandemic agents deemed to be a “bio-threat.”

VeriChip is working with a Minnesota company, Receptors LLC, to develop the virus-detection technology.
“As we continue to build on our partnership with Receptors, which started with the development of a glucose-sensing RFID implantable microchip, we are moving beyond patient identification to sensors that can detect and identify illnesses and viruses such as influenza,” said Scott R. Silverman, chairman of VeriChip, in a statement. “This is an exciting next step for the future of our healthcare division.”
According to a joint white paper released earlier this year by both companies called “An Integrated Sensor System for the Detection of Bio-Threats from Pandemics to Emerging Diseases to Bio-Terrorism,” the research’s goal is to transform existing glucose-detection technology into pinpointing viruses instead, then couple it with an “in vivo” – meaning implanted inside a living organism – microchip that can alert others of the virus’ presence.

The ultimate goal is to develop an implant that can also diagnose which virus is infecting the host.

VeriChip has also announced earlier this month additional forays into emergency preparedness through its VeriTrace system.
According to a statement, the company sold a VeriTrace system, including 1,000 RFID microchips, to Kentucky’s Green River District Health Department “for disaster preparedness and emergency management needs.”

The company explains that VeriTrace, a separate system from its virus detection or patient records technology, was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, where it was used by the Federal Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. The system includes the microchips, a Bluetooth handheld reader, a customized camera that receives both RFID scanned data and GPS data wirelessly, and a web-based database for storing information and images captured during emergency response operations.

The microchips are implanted in human remains following a disaster or, according to one report from the Katrina catastrophe, duct-taped to bones, in order to maintain detailed records, particularly in events that result in hundreds or thousands of fatalities.
“This database ensures the precise collection, storage and inventory of all data and images related to remains and the associated evidentiary items,” the statement boasts. “This also allows the recreation of an accurate and complete reconstruction of a disaster setting, crime scene or similar setting where recreation is necessary.”
Since Hurricane Katrina, the RFID Journal reports, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Hawaii Department of Health, the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System and the medical examiner’s office in the Department of Heath in Erie County, N.Y, have also purchased the system. Earlier this year, VeriChip announced sales to Maryland’s Calvert Memorial Hospital and to Mercer and Atlantic counties in New Jersey.

WND contacted VeriChip seeking information on its progress in developing the virus detection technology and other emergency preparedness microchip implants, but received no response.

WND previously has reported on such chips when hospitals used them to identify newborns, VeriChip desired to embed immigrants with the electronic devices, a government health event showcased them and when Wal-Mart used microchips to track customers.

IBM Uses DNA to Make Next-Gen Microchips

August 16, 2009

Reuters - International Business Machines Corp is looking to the building blocks of our bodies -- DNA -- to be the structure of next-generation microchips.

As chipmakers compete to develop ever-smaller chips at cheaper prices, designers are struggling to cut costs. Artificial DNA nanostructures, or "DNA origami" may provide a cheap framework on which to build tiny microchips, according to a paper published on Sunday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Microchips are used in computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.

"This is the first demonstration of using biological molecules to help with processing in the semiconductor industry," IBM research manager Spike Narayan said in an interview with Reuters. "Basically, this is telling us that biological structures like DNA actually offer some very reproducible, repetitive kinds of patterns that we can actually leverage in semiconductor processes," he said.

The research was a joint undertaking by scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center and the California Institute of Technology.

Right now, the tinier the chip, the more expensive the equipment. Narayan said that if the DNA origami process scales to production-level, manufacturers could trade hundreds of millions of dollars in complex tools for less than a million dollars of polymers, DNA solutions, and heating implements. "The savings across many fronts could add up significantly," he said.

But the new processes are at least 10 years out. Narayan said that while the DNA origami could allow chipmakers to build frameworks that are far smaller than possible with conventional tools, the technique still needs years of experimentation and testing.

Balloon Near Border Raises Privacy Concerns

August 15, 2009 - It's not often that a balloon makes people feel uncomfortable. But the inflatable aircraft that has been floating above the St. Clair River in recent weeks, across the border from Sarnia, Ont., is no ordinary balloon.

Officially, the "balloon" is called an Aerostat. It's a Helium-inflated aircraft that looks like a flying wing, and had been floating between 150 and 300 metres above the ground in Port Huron, Mich., since the end of last month, until a storm damaged its fabric and it was taken down for repairs.

The company that owns it, Sierra Nevada Corporation, reportedly wants to test out the new technology to see if it can sell it to U.S. Homeland Security for use as a patrolling device.
But Bradley M. Lott, a retired U.S. Marine Corps major general who is running the Aerostat testing in Port Huron, said the company's plan is to see what the aircraft can do and how it can be used in a variety of situations -- including for use in rescue operations after natural disasters or airline accidents...

The device carries a "technologically-advanced payload," Lott said, which could be configured to carry a camera, communications equipment or other materials.

But that payload -- and the powerful camera that has been training its eye on the St. Clair River while the Aerostat has being tested -- is exactly the problem issue for Sarnia residents who already put up with surveillance from helicopters, boats, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other patrols along the Ontario-Michigan border. Not to mention the flying drones that will start patrolling the border next year.
"It's unbelievable that they think they need this on a friendly nation's border," said Adam Bush, a 24-year-old Sarnia resident who opposes the Aerostat's presence on the other side of the river.
But it goes beyond the issue of U.S. defence concerns for many Sarnia residents, who say they simply do not want to be spied upon -- or potentially be spied upon -- by cameras from across the border.
Having a camera peering into Sarnia is "a clear violation of our privacy and our sovereignty," said Mayor Mike Bradley, when explaining the issue over the phone to

"It's extremely creepy," said Bush, who has helped organize a cheeky protest against the Aerostat, aptly named "Moon the Balloon."
Lott said the Aerostat is, in fact, not spying on anybody and is simply tracking the river, while it is being tested.

Bradley, however, is additionally upset that no one in Sarnia was consulted as to whether the city wanted the Aerostat flying over its horizon. He's even written to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, though Bradley said he has not yet received a response about the Aerostat issue.

Lott said he has tried to reach out to Bradley about his concerns -- a gesture which the Sarnia mayor acknowledges, though he does not believe that the Aerostat is keeping its camera trained solely on the St. Clair River.

"No one here is buying the argument that they are not looking at buildings," Bradley said.
Lott insists that the Aerostat is being governed by the "ethical behaviour of an ethical company" and he said Sierra Nevada Corp. is trying to "be as open as we can be" about their operations, inviting TV crews to check out the aircraft and its payload up-close.

But the controversy has shown no signs of deflating in Sarnia...

VeriChip Sells 1,000 Implantable RFID Microchips to Kentucky Health Department

August 11, 2009 - VeriChip Corporation, a provider of radio frequency identification (RFID) systems for healthcare and patient-related needs, has sold the VeriTrace system, including 1,000 RFID microchips, for disaster preparedness and emergency management needs, for an undisclosed sum to Kentucky’s Green River District Health Department, the company said on Monday.

This is reportedly the second VeriTrace system sale by the company in last 30 days.

VeriTrace was designed to assist in the management of emergency situations and disaster recovery using implantable RFID technology.

The VeriTrace system includes a unique implantable RFID microchip, a VeriTrace Bluetooth handheld reader, a customised Ricoh 500SE Digital Camera capable of receiving both RFID scanned data and GPS data wirelessly, and a Web-enabled database for gathering and storing information and images captured during emergency response operations.

DMVs Boost Public Acceptance of Biometrics

August 7, 2009 - A number of states throughout the country have implemented some form of facial recognition or biometric technology within their Department of Motor Vehicles and others are preparing to follow suit, said Jason King, spokesperson for the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
State DMVs aren’t just in the business of highway safety,” he said. “They’re now in the identity management business and many are looking to step up their game and improve identity protection mechanisms so folks aren’t committing photo-identity fraud.”
Currently 31 states incorporate biometric or facial recognition technology, King said.

In March, the Virginia DMV instituted a “neutral expression” policy, requiring individuals to refrain from smiling or showing their teeth when taking a photograph for their driver’s license. Melanie Stokes, a spokesperson for the Virginia DMV, said the policy was put in place because the state plans to incorporate facial recognition software into its system in the future. Before the DMV can begin using the technology, the state would need to pass legislation and allocate funding for the program. “We thought it was prudent to begin capturing photos with a neutral expression now in case lawmakers want to use the technology in the future,” she said.

While facial recognition remains a relatively young technology, its growing application in state DMVs helps boost its acceptance by the public, said Stephen Russell, chairman of 3VR Security, a developer of facial recognition technology that does not currently provide software to these state agencies.
DMV is not a place where there’s an expectation of privacy of identity,” he said. “Not only does it protect you as a consumer from ID theft, but anything the DMV can do to stop giving the wrong IDs to someone else has the potential benefit of reducing risk of overall identity fraud.”

Biometrics Ensure Parents Leave School with the Right Kids

August 11, 2009

Security Director News (Aldie, Va.) — The Boyd School, a progressive Montessori school with seven locations in Northern Virginia, recently completed a biometric security installation designed to confirm the identity of adults entering the school as well as track students throughout the school day...

The school installed BioSafe, a biometric security solution developed specifically for the Boyd School by systems integrator New Year Tech. The system requires that adults dropping off children enter a PIN code and scan the back of their hand using Identica’s VP-II vascular scanner, said Soy Chu, president and CEO of New Year Tech. Using a touchscreen computer, adults select their children and enter any information pertaining to recent feedings, medication or other information for teachers. The system allows the adults to enter the building and notifies the teacher of the child’s expected arrival. Once the student enters the classroom, the teacher electronically checks them in and will subsequently sign children in and out of classrooms throughout the school day, allowing administrators to know the location of all children at all times...

Administrators at Boyd School had a vision for the security system they wanted, but couldn’t find a solution available in the market, said Smith. The school contacted several security integrators and were told that the system they envisioned didn’t exist and was over the top, she said. However, when administrators approached New Year Tech, “they immediately saw the potential,” she said.

It took more than a year to develop BioSafe, which New Year Tech plans to bring to market. The system was designed in a modular format so that other institutions can utilize as much or as little of the system as they want, said Chu. The school plans to integrate an IP-based camera system at its newest facility in Aldie, Va., a 46,000-square-foot former elementary school that the Boyd School recently purchased and remodeled and will open in September.

In addition, New Year Tech is looking to add more features to the system including the ability to conduct background checks, Chu said. While the Boyd School is not currently utilizing this capability, Smith said they are considering it.

Swine Flu & Other Pandemics

WHO Warns of Severe Form of Swine Flu

August 28, 2009

Reuters – Doctors are reporting a severe form of swine flu that goes straight to the lungs, causing severe illness in otherwise healthy young people and requiring expensive hospital treatment, the World Health Organization said on Friday.

Some countries are reporting that as many as 15 percent of patients infected with the new H1N1 pandemic virus need hospital care, further straining already overburdened healthcare systems, WHO said in an update on the pandemic.
“During the winter season in the southern hemisphere, several countries have viewed the need for intensive care as the greatest burden on health services,” it said.

“Preparedness measures need to anticipate this increased demand on intensive care units, which could be overwhelmed by a sudden surge in the number of severe cases.”
Earlier, WHO reported that H1N1 had reached epidemic levels in Japan, signaling an early start to what may be a long influenza season this year, and that it was also worsening in tropical regions.
“Perhaps most significantly, clinicians from around the world are reporting a very severe form of disease, also in young and otherwise healthy people, which is rarely seen during seasonal influenza infections,” WHO said.

“In these patients, the virus directly infects the lung, causing severe respiratory failure. Saving these lives depends on highly specialized and demanding care in intensive care units, usually with long and costly stays.”

Report: Swine Flu Could Cause Up to 90,000 U.S. Deaths

August 24, 2009

CNN Story Highlights:
  • Panel: Up to 50 percent of U.S. population could be infected this fall, winter
  • H1N1, plus seasonal flu, could place "enormous stress" on hospitals
  • Vaccine expected in mid-October, but too late to help many, panel says
  • Panel urges availability of some doses by mid-September
The H1N1 flu virus could cause up to 90,000 U.S. deaths, mainly among children and young adults, if it resurges this fall as expected, according to a report released Monday by a presidential advisory panel.

The H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu virus, could infect between 30 percent and 50 percent of the American population during the fall and winter and lead to as many as 1.8 million U.S. hospital admissions, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology reported.

The report says 30,000 to 90,000 deaths are projected as part of a "plausible scenario" involving large outbreaks at schools, inadequate antiviral supplies and the virus peaking before vaccinations have time to be effective.

Up to 40,000 U.S. deaths are linked to seasonal flu each year, with most of the fatalities occurring among people over 65. With seasonal flu and H1N1, this fall is expected to bring more influenza deaths and place "enormous stress" on intensive care units nationwide, which normally operate near capacity, the report says.

An H1N1 resurgence may happen as early as September, at the beginning of the school year, and infections may peak in mid-October, according to the report. However, the H1N1 vaccine isn't expected to be available until mid-October, and even then it will take several weeks for vaccinated individuals to develop immunity, the report says.

The potential "mismatch in timing" could significantly diminish the usefulness of the H1N1 vaccine, the report says.

"Even with the best efforts, this will cause some illness, some severe illness and unfortunately, some deaths," Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday.

"But a lot so far has gone remarkably right," Frieden said. "There's a vaccine well on its way to being distributed, diagnostic tests available in well over 100 laboratories, treatments pre-positioned around the country ... and guidance issued for health care providers, schools, businesses and other communities."

Among the report's recommendations are for government agencies to:
  • Prepare several "planning scenarios" to determine demand for supplies and care.
  • Set up surveillance systems to track information about influenza-like illnesses.
  • Develop plans to protect the public's most vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
  • Speed up the production of the H1N1 vaccine and have an initial batch -- enough to vaccinate up to 40 million people, especially those who are at risk of serious disease -- by mid-September.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the government's preparation and guidance for the public was based on the need to strike a balance "on a continuum of being paralyzed with fear versus complacency."

So far, clinical trials for the H1N1 vaccine have not indicated adverse side effects beyond what are experienced with the seasonal flu vaccine, Sebelius said.

However, there would be no formal decision to launch a vaccination campaign until those trials were complete, she said. That decision would be hers, she said, and she emphasized that any vaccination program would be strictly voluntary.

Pregnant women, health care workers and parents or guardians of infants under 6 months of age are among the most vulnerable segments of the population, Sebelius has said. Adults under the age of 65 with an underlying health condition -- such as asthma -- are also considered to be more at risk from the H1N1 virus.

H1N1 preparation guidelines for the nation's businesses and school systems were released three weeks ago. The plans are available at the Web site

The H1N1 vaccine would require two shots, the second three weeks after the first. Immunity to the virus would not kick in until two weeks after the second shot.

The World Health Organization declared the H1N1 virus a global pandemic on June 11. More than 1,490 people around the world have died from the virus since it emerged this spring, a WHO official said last week.

Experts Warn Tamiflu Can Make Swine Flu Virus Resistant to Treatment

August 24, 2009

LA Times - Indiscriminate use of antiviral medications to prevent and treat influenza could ease the way for drug-resistant strains of the novel H1N1 virus, or swine flu, to emerge, public health officials warn — making the fight against a pandemic that much harder.

Already, a handful of cases of Tamiflu-resistant H1N1 have been reported this summer, and there is no shortage of examples of misuse of the antiviral medications, experts say.

People often fail to complete a full course of the drug, according to a recent British report — a scenario also likely to be occurring in the U.S. and one that encourages resistance. Stockpiling is rife, and some U.S. summer camps have given Tamiflu prophylactically to healthy kids and staff, and have even told campers to bring the drug to camp. Experts anticipate more problems in the fall as children return to school and normal flu season draws nearer.
“Influenza viruses mutate frequently and any viral resistance could be acquired easily,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center on Immunization and Respiratory Disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “It won’t surprise us if we see resistance emerge as a bigger problem in the fall or in the years ahead.”
Prescribed in pill form, Tamiflu (oseltamivir) works by preventing the flu virus from leaving infected cells and spreading to new ones. Because a vaccine against pandemic H1N1 influenza will not be widely available for several months, Tamiflu and to a lesser extent Relenza (zanamivir), an antiviral that acts similarly, are key medical tools for fighting the pandemic in the meantime.

On Friday, however, the World Health Organization advised doctors that even those who are sickened with swine flu do not need to be given Tamiflu or Relenza if they are only mildly or moderately sick and are not in a high-risk group (such as children under 5, pregnant women and those with an underlying health condition).

Both drugs can help prevent illness in people exposed to the virus and reduce illness severity in people already sickened with it. On Aug. 14, after U.S. national soccer team forward Landon Donovan was diagnosed with H1N1 flu, players, coaches and support staff of the U.S. and Galaxy teams were advised to take Tamiflu as a preventive measure.

Tamiflu was chosen a few years ago for stockpiling by the federal government to deal with future pandemics...

Anxiety over indiscriminate use is growing, and taking the medications cavalierly is not without consequence. British health authorities reported Aug. 2 that cases of side effects from Tamiflu had doubled in the prior week, coinciding with the July 24 launch of a program in England to provide antivirals to anyone with H1N1 influenza who requests it over the phone or online.

In the first three days of the program, 150,000 packets of Tamiflu were dispensed and 293 cases of side effects were reported. Tamiflu can cause vomiting, diarrhea and mild neuropsychiatric effects.

Some U.S. health authorities have also expressed concern over misuse of the medications... americans are known to hoard antivirals: A 2006 study showed that heightened anxiety over a possible avian flu pandemic caused Tamiflu prescriptions to soar 300% in 2004 and 2005.

Just as with antibiotics, of central importance to antivirals’ success is taking them properly, including completing the recommended course.

However, a study published in late July found poor adherence among children in London who took Tamiflu for prevention of pandemic H1N1 in the spring. Less than half of the grade-school-age children and only 76% of the 13- and 14-year-old students completed a full course of medication. More than half of the children reported side effects, such as nausea, stomach cramps and trouble sleeping. Almost one in five reported a neuropsychiatric side effect, such as poor concentration, confusion or bad dreams, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says neuropsychiatric side effects are rare.
Moreover, a study published this week found that Tamiflu and Relenza are unlikely to prevent complications, such as asthma flare-ups or ear infections, in children who have seasonal influenza. But they do increase the risk of vomiting.

The authors of the study, published in the British Medical Journal, said they don’t know if their findings can be generalized to the pandemic flu strain...

Health Experts Have Contradicted the Government’s Policy Over Tamiflu

August 21, 2009

Evening Standard - The Government is refusing to change its swine flu policy after experts said healthy people should not be given Tamiflu.

The World Health Organisation advice directly contradicts British policy on the issue.

The WHO said most patients were experiencing typical flu symptoms and would get better within a week, and Tamiflu should not be given to healthy people.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “We believe a safety-first approach of offering antivirals, when required, to everyone remains a sensible and responsible way forward. “However, we will keep this policy under review as we learn more about the virus and its effects.” He added that the WHO recommendations are “in line” with UK policy on antivirals.

The NHS has given out hundreds of thousands of doses of the antiviral since the start of the pandemic, and the national swine flu hotline was set up to make it easier for people to bypass their GP and get the drug.

But Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson admitted that less than 10 per cent of those who have been prescribed Tamiflu actually have swine flu. Figures show that staff on the hotline authorised 45,986 courses of antivirals in the past week.

Many more people have collected antivirals after seeing their doctor.

During the early stages of the pandemic, Tamiflu was given to people who had been in contact with swine flu victims, even if they were not showing symptoms.

Today’s WHO advice comes after a government watchdog raised fears that Tamiflu can put some people at greater risk of suffering a stroke. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency alerted GPs to the potential problem.

Researchers at Oxford University have also warned that children with mild symptoms should not be given the drug because of side effects. There have also been claims that mass use of Tamiflu will encourage the virus to become resistant to the antiviral and can cause nightmares in children.

Today’s advice, published on the WHO website, said Tamiflu (also called oseltamivir) and another antiviral Relenza (also called zanamivir) should not be given to healthy people.

However, the drugs should be given quickly to patients in a serious condition or who appear to be deteriorating. Those in at-risk groups — such as people with an underlying medical condition such as diabetes — should also receive the drugs promptly.

A statement said the new guidelines “represent the consensus reached by an international panel of experts who reviewed all available studies on the safety and effectiveness of these drugs”.

It went on: “Healthy patients with uncomplicated illness need not be treated with antivirals.”
TV presenter Andrew Castle has publicly criticised Tamiflu after revealing that his daughter Georgina nearly died after taking it. Mr Castle said the 16-year-old suffered an asthma attack and was hospitalised after being given a double dose of the antiviral in May, when there was a swine flu outbreak at her school, Alleyn’s in Dulwich. Tests later revealed that she did not have the virus.

Brit Media Reports On H1N1 Mass Graves

August 19, 2009

The Sun - Plans for mass graves have been drawn up to cope with a second wave of swine flu this Autumn. The chilling proposals are spelled out in a Home Office document discussed at a meeting of Whitehall officials and council leaders last month. It warns emergency plans may be needed in areas where there are not enough graves to cope.

The 59-page document talks about using "a grave that is for a number of unrelated persons, excavated mechanically in advance and designed for efficient preparation and use."

It said this approach would create a "burial site for multiple graves and consecutive burials." But it stressed there must still be "marking of the position of individual burials."

The document is called A Framework for Planners Preparing to Manage Deaths.

The meeting heard the number of burials could more than double within a few weeks of a full-blown pandemic. It heard a presentation on the Home Office guidance from John Barrelled, a senior official from Westminster City Council. The document warned some cemeteries "may experience shortage of grave space, in particular in inner city areas."

Freight containers and "inflatable" storage units may be needed to provide extra mortuary space. But it stressed "refrigerated vehicles and trailers should not be used."

Cemeteries and crematoriums may need to work seven days a week and hire extra staff to cope. It also warned there may be a need for more "basic and shorter services at the chapel" or for "memorial services" to be held at a person's home instead. It may no longer be possible to bury some people in family plots. New laws could be passed to allow "streamlined" cremations.

Whitehall officials are speaking to coffin makers to see if they can meet demand. Retired docs could be drafted in to issue death certificates so GPs can focus on patients. It may also become impossible to fly home the bodies of Britons who die abroad. Presently 30 percent of people are buried.

New cases of swine flu have fallen sharply from a peak of over 110,000 a week in late July. But experts predict a second wave this autumn.

New York Funeral Directors Prepare for 85,000 Swine Flu Deaths

August 13, 2009

Astoria Times - City officials are bracing for a surge of swine flu cases this fall and funeral home directors need to be prepared to accommodate a possible related 50,000 to 85,000 deaths, the director of the Metropolitan Funeral Directors Association told a gathering of funeral home representatives in Forest Hills last week.
“As funeral directors, we really need to know what we’re about to face,” Martin Kasdan said. “When swine flu comes back, it could possibly be devastating.”
About 15 officials from area funeral homes attended the meeting sponsored by the MetFDA at Schwartz Brothers in Forest Hills Aug. 6. The MetFDA is holding four meetings in the city and one in Westchester this month to better prepare funeral homes for a possible increase in deaths as well as a rise in the number of sick and absent employees.

MetFDA officials said they were also relaying information from the meetings to city agencies, including the city Health Department and the medical examiner’s office, with which they have been working in preparation for a potential second wave of swine flu.

Swine flu, otherwise known as H1N1, first hit the city in May in a group of St. Francis Preparatory students in Fresh Meadows. The outbreak occurred after the students had arrived home from a trip to Mexico, where the World Health Organization said the global pandemic originated.

As of July, more than 900 New Yorkers had been hospitalized with H1N1 and 47 had died, including two Queens residents, according to city statistics.

Flushing resident Mitchell Wiener, an assistant principal at IS 238 in Hollis, became the city’s first swine flu casualty May 17. A second unnamed woman from Queens died from swine flu May 24, according to the city.

City residents continue to come down with H1N1, but the numbers have continually decreased since the spike of cases in May, health officials said.
“The Health Department monitors influenza-like illnesses every day in New York City,” said city Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. “While every hospitalization is concerning and every death is a tragedy, our surveillance data indicate that the number of people newly infected is declining.”
The Centers for Disease Control has predicted a 2.1 percent to 3.3 percent death rate among those who come down with swine flu this fall, which translates into an additional 52,000 to 86,000 deaths in the city over a three-month period, Kasdan said.
“It’s mind-boggling,” Kasdan said of the possible death rate. “Is the CDC right? Who knows — hopefully not. But you need to be prepared.”
The potential upswing in fatalities poses a wide array of questions for city officials and funeral directors, such as where to store bodies, how to hold funerals in a climate where swine flu is passed easily from person to person and how many extra supplies will be needed.

“You may have to wait for funerals because the family is sick or until the cemetery says they’re able to do the burial,” Kasdan said. “You might have to store bodies longer.”

Kasdan said the city medical examiner is already looking into possibly using vacant city buildings to store bodies, and the city has contracted for a unit to be built in Germany that will handle hundreds of bodies.

They're Getting Ready for Something Big This Fall

July 29, 2009

Dissecting The New Age - Now more than ever this is looking to be the case.

It's obvious they're getting the public ready for mandatory swine flu vaccinations. They're not publicly calling for mandatory vaccinations yet, but clearly it's heading in that direction. Anyone who has seen the World Health Organization (WHO) memos knows what their plans are. The only way for them to pull this off is to declare emergency powers under martial law. I believe this will happen in the fall.

The WHO said a week ago they were looking for mutations in the virus. Now it's being said that mutations are likely and that the flu will intensify this fall. This is predictive programming.

Now, just today, it was announced that the US military wants to establish regional teams of military personnel to assist civilian authorities in the event of an outbreak. This is martial law.

Military Planning for Possible H1N1 Outbreak

CNN - The U.S. military wants to establish regional teams of military personnel to assist civilian authorities in the event of a significant outbreak of the H1N1 virus this fall, according to Defense Department officials.

The proposal is awaiting final approval from Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The officials would not be identified because the proposal from U.S. Northern Command's Gen. Victor Renuart has not been approved by the secretary.

The plan calls for military task forces to work in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There is no final decision on how the military effort would be manned, but one source said it would likely include personnel from all branches of the military.

It has yet to be determined how many troops would be needed and whether they would come from the active duty or the National Guard and Reserve forces.

Civilian authorities would lead any relief efforts in the event of a major outbreak, the official said. The military, as they would for a natural disaster or other significant emergency situation, could provide support and fulfill any tasks that civilian authorities could not, such as air transport or testing of large numbers of viral samples from infected patients.

As a first step, Gates is being asked to sign a so-called "execution order" that would authorize the military to begin to conduct the detailed planning to execute the proposed plan.

Orders to deploy actual forces would be reviewed later, depending on how much of a health threat the flu poses this fall, the officials said.

Ethicist Worried Swine Flu Vaccine May Be More Dangerous Than the Virus Itself

August 16, 2009

CTV - The race is on to create a vaccine for swine flu, as many infectious disease experts warn that the northern hemisphere could face a “second wave” of H1N1. But some worry the fast-tracked vaccine may be more dangerous than the virus itself.
Across Europe, Asia and the U.S., vaccine manufacturers have begun testing the first batches of the vaccines, with volunteers rolling up their sleeves to try the new formulations for safety and effectiveness. They will be testing different dosages, looking to see if any trigger immune reactions or other possible side effects.

But in his office in Winnipeg, University of Manitoba medical ethicist Dr. Arthur Schafer is worried.
“We're rushing the vaccines, there isn’t time for them to be properly tested for effectiveness; there won’t be time for them to be properly tested for safety,” he tells CTV News.
The vaccine is being touted as our best weapon against the virus, and hailed as a sort of “magic bullet.” But Schafer notes that the first scientific data will only provide information on the correct dosage and immediate reactions from the shot. Long-term safety data won’t be available when vaccination programs begin in the fall.
“So the claim that we know it to be safe and effective just isn’t levelling with the Canadian public. No one knows that,” says Schafer.
Many remember the ill-advised mass vaccination program in the U.S. in 1976, when millions of Americans and some Canadians got a vaccine for a virus that quickly fizzled out.
About 4,000 people became ill after getting immunized, including about 500 who came down with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a paralyzing though generally temporary neuromuscular disorder. When anger over the vaccine program reached a crescendo, the program was quickly withdrawn and the U.S. government was left with a $3-billion lawsuit.
The World Health Organization has acknowledged safety issues “will inevitably arise during a pandemic when vaccine is administered on a massive scale. For example, adverse events too rare to show up even in a large clinical trial may become apparent when very large numbers of people receive a pandemic vaccine.”

Still, Schafer says he’s not comfortable with the plan to encourage every Canadian to get the vaccine. He recently let his feelings be known in an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press and says his comments seemed to hit a nerve.
“I’ve had a lot of feedback from scientists around the country who have emailed or phoned to say they are relieved someone is flagging these concerns,” he says.
Shafer says the evidence from the southern hemisphere suggests swine flu is no more lethal than the seasonal flu. So he wonders why a mass vaccination program is being considered.
There are serious public health issues and issues of ethics as to whether we should be distributing (vaccines) massively to healthy people, including children and pregnant women, when there are really big question marks about their effectiveness and their safety.”
But Toronto vaccine specialist Dr. Allison McGeer says speeding the vaccine through production and testing is necessary.

She says as the safety data comes in, in the coming weeks, and a clearer picture of swine flu’s effects in the southern hemisphere emerges, decisions will be made about who needs it.
“The order is insurance,” she said, referring to the vaccine.
McGeer agrees that open public discussion is needed. She points out that there are risks to any influenza, including swine flu. The vaccine is designed to protect those at risk.
“The recommendation is based on a very careful assessment of what the risks of influenza are, and what the benefits (and risks) of the vaccine are.”

Neurologists Warn That Swine Flu Vaccine Linked to Deadly Nerve Disease

August 15, 2009

Daily Mail (London) - A warning that the new swine flu jab is linked to a deadly nerve disease has been sent by the Government to senior neurologists in a confidential letter.

The letter from the Health Protection Agency, the official body that oversees public health, has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday, leading to demands to know why the information has not been given to the public before the vaccination of millions of people, including children, begins.

It tells the neurologists that they must be alert for an increase in a brain disorder called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which could be triggered by the vaccine. GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, causing paralysis and inability to breathe, and can be fatal.

The letter, sent to about 600 neurologists on July 29, is the first sign that there is concern at the highest levels that the vaccine itself could cause serious complications. It refers to the use of a similar swine flu vaccine in the United States in 1976 when:
  • More people died from the vaccination than from swine flu.
  • 500 cases of GBS were detected.
  • The vaccine may have increased the risk of contracting GBS by eight times.
  • The vaccine was withdrawn after just ten weeks when the link with GBS became clear.
  • The US Government was forced to pay out millions of dollars to those affected.
Concerns have already been raised that the new vaccine has not been sufficiently tested and that the effects, especially on children, are unknown.

It is being developed by pharmaceutical companies and will be given to about 13 million people during the first wave of immunisation, expected to start in October. Top priority will be given to everyone aged six months to 65 with an underlying health problem, pregnant women and health professionals. The British Neurological Surveillance Unit (BNSU), part of the British Association of Neurologists, has been asked to monitor closely any cases of GBS as the vaccine is rolled out.

One senior neurologist said last night: ‘I would not have the swine flu jab because of the GBS risk.’

There are concerns that there could be a repeat of what became known as the ‘1976 debacle’ in the US, where a swine flu vaccine killed 25 people – more than the virus itself.
A mass vaccination was given the go-ahead by President Gerald Ford because scientists believed that the swine flu strain was similar to the one responsible for the 1918-19 pandemic, which killed half a million Americans and 20 million people worldwide.

Within days, symptoms of GBS were reported among those who had been immunised and 25 people died from respiratory failure after severe paralysis. One in 80,000 people came down with the condition. In contrast, just one person died of swine flu.

More than 40 million Americans had received the vaccine by the time the programme was stopped after ten weeks. The US Government paid out millions of dollars in compensation to those affected.
The swine flu virus in the new vaccine is a slightly different strain from the 1976 virus, but the possibility of an increased incidence of GBS remains a concern.

Shadow health spokesman Mike Penning said last night:
‘The last thing we want is secret letters handed around experts within the NHS. We need a vaccine but we also need to know about potential risks. ‘Our job is to make sure that the public knows what’s going on. Why is the Government not being open about this? It’s also very worrying if GPs, who will be administering the vaccine, aren’t being warned.’
Two letters were posted together to neurologists advising them of the concerns...

If there are signs of a rise in GBS after the vaccination programme begins, the Government could decide to halt it.

GBS attacks the lining of the nerves, leaving them unable to transmit signals to muscles effectively. It can cause partial paralysis and mostly affects the hands and feet. In serious cases, patients need to be kept on a ventilator, but it can be fatal. Death is caused by paralysis of the respiratory system, causing the victim to suffocate. It is not known exactly what causes GBS and research on the subject has been inconclusive. However, it is thought that one in a million people who have a seasonal flu vaccination could be at risk and it has also been linked to people recovering from a bout of flu of any sort.

The HPA said it was part of the Government’s pandemic plan to monitor GBS cases in the event of a mass vaccination campaign, regardless of the strain of flu involved. But vaccine experts warned that the letters proved the programme was a ‘guinea-pig trial’...

In India Swine Flu Hysteria Spreads Faster Than Virus

August 14, 2009

AP (New Delhi, India) - The streets of the western city of Pune were half-empty, schools in Mumbai were ordered closed, and people suffering aches flooded hospitals across the country as India confronted dueling outbreaks of swine flu and swine flu panic.

Twenty one people have died from the flu here, the government said Friday, and 1,390 have been confirmed infected in this nation of 1.2 billion people. But fear of the flu has outpaced the virus itself.
The amount of frenzy or hysteria is totally disproportionate to the overall reality of the disease,” Dr. Jai Narain, the head of the regional communicable disease office for the World Health Organization, said Friday.
Breathless reports of swine flu have dominated India’s 24-hour news channels desperate for stories amid the August doldrums. That in turn has helped whip the public into a frenzy, even in cities with relatively few cases of flu.

In New Delhi, where no deaths have been reported, people have begun wearing surgical masks in the street. In Lucknow, parents demanded their children be tested.
“Over 1,000 people lined up at different hospitals. … Eleven of them tested positive,” Dr. R.R. Bharati, a top health official in the northern city of Lucknow said earlier this week.
In Mumbai, the country’s financial capital, the government closed all schools and movie theaters, hammering the Bollywood film industry over the long Independence Day holiday weekend. The government also asked malls in Mumbai to tone down their traditional holiday sales to keep away crowds.

The nearby city of Pune is India’s worst affected, with 13 of the country’s 21 deaths. There, the streets were half-empty, the usual crowds shunned the shopping malls and many workers stopped showing up at offices. With schools closed, worried parents kept their children shut inside. Many who did venture out wore surgical masks, despite a shortage that sent the price of a single mask skyrocketing from 5 rupees (10 cents) to 150 rupees ($3).
“The situation in Pune is alarming considering the number of … positive cases and deaths. We are augmenting the resources in the city to handle the situation. However, we appeal to people not to panic,” said Chandrakant Dalvi, a city official.
In response to the outbreak, India’s government has set up testing centers around the country and plans to increase its stock of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu to 30 million doses, the government said. But officials have also asked people to stop wearing surgical masks in the street unless they or a family member are infected.
“I cannot see anything to panic about,” said Dr. Jayaprakash Muliyil, a professor of epidemiology at Christian Medical College in Vellore. “These kinds of rumors are not good for the health of the nation.”
The fatality rate from the virus is relatively low, though scientists worry it could eventually mutate into a more deadly strain, he said.

Yet the flu has garnered far more attention than India’s raft of other health problems, including tuberculosis, which kills nearly 1,000 Indians every day, according to World Health Organization figures...

Swine Flu May Not Be Any Deadlier This Fall: Experts

August 12, 2009

U.S. News & World Report - The theory that a relatively mild outbreak of a new flu virus in the spring predicts a more severe, deadly outbreak in the fall isn’t borne out by a look back at prior epidemics, two U.S. experts say.

“Pandemic history suggests that changes neither in transmissibility nor in pathogenicity are inevitable,” concluded Drs. David Morens and Jeffery Taubenberger, infectious disease experts at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health.

In an article published in the Aug. 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the experts take on a much-publicized theory that’s helped stoke fears about a resurgence of swine flu in the Northern Hemisphere this fall.

The so-called “herald wave” theory stems from the belief that the deadly 1918-19 flu pandemic began with a milder spring wave of illness, which got more deadly as the virus spread throughout the summer, picking up lethal mutations. The 1918-19 “Spanish Flu” is estimated to have killed between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide...

Nearly 3,000 People Line Up for Experimental H1N1 Vaccine

August 10, 2009

The Early Show - Hundreds of Americans in eight cities are lining up for experimental swine flu shots in a race to get a vaccine out before the new flu virus sweeps the U.S. this fall.

Sharon Frey, who is leading the government-funded testing at Saint Louis University, said scientists have been working late nights and weekends to organize the studies and recruit volunteers.
"Typically it takes a year to do this," said Frey, an infectious diseases expert. "I can tell you we're working at breakneck speed."
About 2,800 people will participate in the government-led studies. Saint Louis University will test 200 adults and 200 children. Also under way are separate studies by five flu vaccine manufacturers under contract with the government.

Health officials expect to have about 160 million doses available this fall, with the first batch sometime in September. The studies will test the safety and effectiveness of vaccines developed by drug makers and help determine dosage and whether it can be given with a seasonal flu shot.

Participants will be given different combinations of two swine flu vaccines made by drug makers Sanofi Pasteur and CSL Limited and a seasonal flu vaccine.

It's possible the government will begin a public vaccination campaign before all of the work of the trials is complete, Dr. Anne Schuchat has said. She oversees the flu vaccination programs at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health officials are haunted by the swine flu vaccine campaign in 1976, which was stopped after unexpectedly high numbers of patients suffered a paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. While it's not clear the vaccine was to blame, the government wants to carefully monitor people who get the new vaccine for any problems.

Nicholas Sarakas, 25, of St. Peters, Mo., is among the vaccine volunteers. As a young adult, he's among the groups targeted for the swine flu vaccine; swine flu has been harder on younger people than their elders.
"I thought, 'I'll end up getting a flu shot anyway,'" he said. "Somebody has to be the first person to try it."
The other study sites are Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Emory University, Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, University of Iowa, University of Maryland School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University.

British National Health Service Has 16 Year-Old Students Handing Out Flu Drugs

August 8, 2009

Daily Mail (England) - An NHS call centre is employing 16-year-olds to assess suspected cases of swine flu. They earn up to £16.40 an hour reading out a prepared script of questions. It is their responsibility to hand out powerful anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu – known to have violent side-effects.

The revelation comes amid concerns that problems with the phone hotline are leading to incorrect diagnoses. At least eight pupils from the same school are among 15 youngsters employed at the pandemic hotline call centre in Watford. Many have been working late into the night, in contravention of employment law guidelines for under-18s.

A source said last night: ‘Some of the kids are just so young I would be surprised if they could even spell the word pandemic.’Liberal Democrat health spokesman Sandra Gidley called the news worrying.
‘Expecting people with little or no experience to work on such a complex subject is irresponsible,’ she said.

‘It’s bad enough that people can answer three questions and bingo, you get Tamiflu. The danger is that the Government, far far from being prepared as it claimed, is actually rushing things through in a way that is bad for the public.’
The call centre held a weekend of job interviews to find 800 part-time staff to supplement 200 existing full-time workers. Some 5,000 people queued outside the headquarters of NHS Professionals, lured by £10 an hour on weekdays and £16.40 at weekends. It is one of 19 centres set up in July after Health Secretary Andy Burnham announced a National Pandemic Flu Service...

The new staff were given three hours of training in how to read a prepared script of questions to discover whether a caller – or a member of their family – was exhibiting swine flu symptoms. If the caller answers yes to a certain number of questions, the call centre worker can suggest taking Tamiflu.

Callers are given an authorisation number which they hand to a ‘flu friend’ who can pick up the anti-viral from a collection point. But an insider claimed that operators were advising higher numbers of people to get Tamiflu ’so they could show they were working hard’...

The revelation that GCSE students are diagnosing flu comes just days after nine out of ten family doctors said they feared phone diagnosis would lead to serious diseases being missed...

Rapid Tests to Diagnose Swine Flu are Often Wrong

August 6, 2009

AP - The government's first study of how well rapid tests diagnose swine flu finds they're wrong at least half the time.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at rapid tests made by three companies. The tests correctly confirmed swine flu infections only 10 percent to 51 percent of the time. The tests were better at diagnosing seasonal flu.

What should doctors do if a test comes back negative for a patient they think has the flu? The CDC says doctors should order a more precise lab test but in the meantime prescribe medicines like Tamiflu.

The results of the study were released Thursday.

Brochure - International Swine Flu Conference to Be Held in Washington Aug 19 – Aug 21, 2009