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CDC: Flu Now An Epidemic; U.S.-Russian Adoptions Ban Delayed; South African Musician Rises To Fame; Travel & Leisure's 500 Best Hotels

Aired January 11, 2013 - 12:30   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: We've got some good news now for some American couples in the process of adopting Russian children. A control Russian law banning adoptions by Americans, signed by President Putin just last month, will not be put into place for one year. It was supposed to take effect this month.

Now what that means is this: some of those adoptions can proceed, the ones that were already in process. And that gives families who were so close some new hope.

Jenny and Josh Johnson are in the process of adopting a little girl from Russia. They join us now live via Skype from Dover, New Jersey.

I think we just lost you, Jenny. Are you there?

No, not there. We will try to get them back and see what this change does for them. Obviously, a lot of encouragement because they still have a chance.

We're going to be right back. When we do come back, we'll talk about the flu. I'm here because Suzanne has got it, 47 of 50 states, maybe some relief in sight, though. We're going to have a live report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


HOLMES: United States experiencing its worst flu season in three years, but the CDC says the situation may be starting to improve.

Even so, I want you to check out a map here. The Centers for Disease Control says the number of states reporting widespread outbreaks -- (INAUDIBLE) there in red; you know, we're talking about the whole country, aren't we? -- 47 states. California, Mississippi, HawaiI and the District of Columbia are only reporting regional outbreaks.

At least people 125 have died from the flu season. Among the victims, 20 children. Now, the positive news is that flu activity has slowed in parts of the southeast and they believe that's because the flu season has started here in that area the earliest. So it's running out of steam.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now. We thought you were at the CDC and then you walked in the studio. That was very quick. Glad you got back.

All right. Let's talk a little bit about why this is and the damage being done.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, you know, you see some decline, as you mentioned, in some parts of the country, but also increases in other parts of the country, which is sort of what you'd expect.

The flu is here, as you point out, 47 states. Want to bring in Dr. Bresee as well, Dr. Joseph Bresee. He's head of the CDC influenza division.

I'm sure you've had a very busy few days. Thanks for joining us. I know you've just been talking, giving these press conferences.

Can you can talk a little bit about these numbers that Michael and I are discussing? We've seen some declines, some increases. How do you -- how do you put this all together, Doctor?

DR. JOSEPH BRESEE, CDC, INFLUENZA DIVISION: Well, I think that we put it all together by just saying there's lots of flu around. We're seeing flu in almost every part of the country right now and lots of it. And so we do think that the early signs that the Southeast may be starting to go down are hopeful. But I think the message to the folks out there is that there's still lots of flu around. We expect it to be around for several more weeks. But still not too late to get vaccinated if you haven't already.

GUPTA: Yes, and I think an important point, these -- this is not a trend we're looking at one sort of point in time. So we're going to need some more data.

You know, one thing that comes up a lot is the -- frankly, the scary projections on number of deaths. I mean, you hear up to 50,000 people, you know. We were hearing that from the CDC. We know of 20 pediatric deaths, two more deaths, tragically, confirmed over the last week. Can you reconcile these numbers for me, Doctor? I mean --


GUPTA: Obviously,20 deaths is tragic. But 50,000? Is that still where the numbers you're thinking?

BRESEE: Well, we don't know how many deaths are occurring this year. We won't know until the end of the season actually. We do know that flu severity of the season is quite variable. And over time, if you look back over the last 20 or so years, somewhere between 3,000 deaths in mild years to around 50,000 deaths or more in severe years occur in flu.

It's a reminder that flu is a serious disease and although most of us will get it and get better on our own without the need for medications or hospitalization, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized every year and thousands or tens of thousands will die. Therefore, we really do want people to get vaccinated or get treated if you're sick now. GUPTA: And then just the last question about that point regarding treatment, this is a virus, not a bacteria. So you don't use antibiotics.

But there are a couple of antivirals out there. The report that just came out this morning seemed to indicate that there is a fair amount of resistance, meaning that these antivirals just aren't working very well.

Is that true, and if so, what is the treatment?

BRESEE: No, fortunately, it's not true, actually. The two recommended antiviral medications, Tamiflu and Relenza work well against these viruses. And in fact, CDC, in our lab, we've looked at about 500 of these viruses so far. And none of those viruses are resistant to these medications. And so the medications should work very well this year.

And so if you didn't get your flu vaccine or even if you did and you get sick with a flu-like illness, talk to your doctor about whether you need to be treated.

GUPTA: And it can shorten the duration. Is that right?

BRESEE: That's right. It shortens the duration and may decrease your chance of getting a complicated or severe illness.

GUPTA: All right. Dr. Bresee, I hope you stay healthy. I'm sure you got your flu shot (INAUDIBLE)?

BRESEE: Indeed, yes.

GUPTA: All right, Doctor, thanks a lot.

HOLMES: (INAUDIBLE) advice, can you?



GUPTA: Over the last couple of days it seems like all that we've been doing.

HOLMES: Well, I'm here because Suzanne is off sick.

GUPTA: Right.

HOLMES: And so I've been here all week for that.

And if you see Don Lemon on the way out, who's taking over at the top of the hour, do not shake his hand. He's not well.

GUPTA: I'm going to tell him to go home.

HOLMES: No, because then I'll have to stay.



GUPTA: All right.

HOLMES: Good to see you, Sanjay. Yes, stay well, everyone. Wash your hands.

All right. I want to go back now to a story we started to bring you earlier, that is about that ban on U.S. adoptions in Russia. They're now going to go into effect next year.

Jenny and Josh Johnson, they are in the process of adopting a little girl from Russia.

We have you back via Skype from Dover, New Jersey. Good to get you back.

Jenny, let's start with you. Are you encouraged by this announcement? How did the original announcement impact you?

JENNY JOHNSON, ADOPTIVE PARENT: I was running my kids around all day yesterday and so when it first came out, it was this big, wonderful thing and everyone was really excited. And I thought, OK, this is it; we're going to bring home my baby.

And then the rumor mill started flying and I've heard things about that only people who have gone to court are going to get to bring their kids home. And there's just a lot of back and forth of what the true story is.

HOLMES: So, Josh, how far along are you in the process?

JOSH JOHNSON, ADOPTIVE PARENT: We're pretty close to the end of the process right now. We have to take a total of three trips in to Russia. We've taken our first trip. We've petitioned the court to adopt. And we got to spend four days with our future daughter.

We're waiting on our next trip which is our court date, where we get approved. And then the third trip we actually get to bring her home. So we're nearing the finish line.

HOLMES: Have you heard anything from Russian officials yet?

JOSH JOHNSON: We've heard nothing at all through official channels. Everything has been either rumor mill or news stories, but there seems to be gaps in all the details. So we actually have a conference call tonight with the Department of Sate that will give information to affected families. So hopefully at the end of that, we'll know better where we stand.

HOLMES: Yes. And fingers crossed on that.

You know, Jenny, it's about people; tell us about your little girl.

JENNY JOHNSON: She is, I would say, spunky and she is -- she's wonderful. She's a tough little girl. She's been through a lot and she still has this amazing personality.

And we promised her before we left that we were coming back to get her. She has pictures of our family, she has pictures of our house. She knows where she's going.

And this could still keep us from coming back to get her. We would be breaking our promise to a 4-year-old. That's really hard to live with.

HOLMES: Well, hopefully that won't happen and that this change by the Russians to hopefully allow cases like yours that are in process to go ahead actually happens.

We wish you well, Jenny and Josh Johnson, in getting that little girl there back here. Appreciate your time.

JOSH JOHNSON: Thank you.


HOLMES: All right.

Well, from the dusty streets of Soweto in South Africa to the neon lights of Broadway. Meet Lebo M, a composer best known for his work on "The Lion King". That's still to come.


HOLMES: Well, the event that draws tech enthusiasts from around the globe wraps up today in Vegas.

Among the cutting edge products at this year's Consumer Electronics Show, HD televisions, but not just any old HDTV. This next generation is known as 4k or ultra HD and delivers resolution four time better than what's on the market now.

So you think your TV's pretty good now, no. Say goodbye to those 3D glasses, by the way. The picture is so detailed on these new sets it looks like 3D to the naked eye.

Yes. I wonder when that's going to hit the market.

Now, the improbable rise of a young boy in South Africa to a prestigious member of the U.S. music industry. At just 9 years old, Lebo M left school and started his career as a singer. Fast forward now to the early 1990s, when Disney came calling. They needed a voice for "The Lion King" soundtrack, and knew exactly who they wanted.

CNN's Errol Barnett has the story.


ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The powerful voice in the opening moments of "The Lion King" belongs to this man. Lebo M grew up in Soweto, South Africa. His unique musical intuition led him to Los Angeles, where he established himself as a South African musician. Lebo M arranged music that captured the spirit of Africa, in tune with the politics of the time.

LEBOHANG "LEBO M" MURAKE, SOUTH AFRICAN COMPOSER: When Simba takes over Pride Land to me it is not an animation. The lyrical inspiration around that is visualizing Nelson Mandela becoming president at the same time when Simba takes over Pride Land. So there was a lot of personal -- it's a personal journey for me, this project.

BARNETT: During the making of "The Lion King" film, Hans Zimmer and Lebo M wrote so much music, that an executive at Disney decided to put out a second album titled "Rhythm of the Pride Lands."


BARNETT: Film, theater and opera director Julie Taymor (ph) heard it and wanted to talk with Lebo M.

MURAKE: I became heavily involved in setting up the casting process, especially for South Africans all over the world, because we decided early on that to keep the inspiration of what you felt in the movie, I needed to have central to the cast, South Africans performing in "The Lion King" in order for the work that I did to come out more and more in person. That's what Julie wanted. Julie wanted in your face South African and African inspiration that drove the movie sound track.

I'm very, very grateful and appreciate --

BARNETT: Even though his arrangements have won him a Grammy, Lebo M is a performer at heart, currently working on his first ever Lebo M tour.

MURAKE: I think the biggest challenge for us South Africans specifically is, how do we continue to define ourselves in the global community as part of the world community, but this is who we are and this is a product that we create for the world to enjoy, that is in essence African, but has inspiration from all over the world.


HOLMES: And Errol Barnett joins us now live from Johannesburg.

Good to see you, Errol. I haven't seen you in a while, my friend. Lebo has already had such an illustrious career. What's next for him?

BARNETT: Good to see you, too, Michael. Well, as we mentioned there, he's now getting back to his original passion, performing his own music live. He's in the planning stages of a world tour. He's also doing this victory lap as a co-composer of the Broadway show for "The Lion King." Fifteen years running now.

But what I found most interesting about Lebo M, as I interviewed him, was as successful as he is now, it all started with one thing, trying to get the attention of girls. He said that back in school, he was no good at sport, wasn't a good athlete, so the way to get the most attractive girls' attention was to sing and perform.

And, Michael, he also said he was inspired by U.S. hip hop and soul music. And, in fact, when he came to Los Angeles to work on his music, he actually realized how unique he was being from South Africa. So in the case of Lebo M, you could say that girls and hip hop helped make the man.

HOLMES: Really? That's why -- that's why you and I went into television.

Errol, good to see you, mate. I appreciate that. Great story. I love it when we chat with Inside Africa there for CNN International.

BARNETT: Sure. Take care.

HOLMES: All right, come visit.

OK. It is a new year. Have you started planning your summer vacation yet? Our travel expert has a list of the best hotels to visit in 2013. Errol's probably been to all of them.


HOLMES: Planning to travel in 2013? Well, don't book it until you check out this month's issue of "Travel and Leisure" magazine. Readers have weighed in on their favorite hotels around the world based on rooms, locations, service, food, and all-important value as well. Nilou Motamed is features director, a senior correspondent for "Travel and Leisure" magazine, joins me now from New York.

And good to see you, Nilou.


HOLMES: The magazine lists 500 best hotels. Tell us about some of the favorites.

MOTAMED: Every January our very well traveled readers tell us the best 500 hotels. And I'm here to tell you a few new ones that have made it onto the list. You know, they're very discerning. So it's nice when they let a new crop onto the list.

The first one that I love is in Venice. It's called The Ca' Sagredo (ph). And what I love about this property is the location could not be better. You're right on the Grand Canal, but you're above Keto San Marco (ph), which means you're away from the crowds. This is an incredible 15th century property that has been not -- has been updated, but not spoiled, which means you're going to get beautiful, classic, very chic Italian style. You're going to get some incredible baroque and renaissance paintings. You're going to get kind of the lap of luxury experience. That's exactly what you want when you're in Venice.

HOLMES: Oh, yes, I remember that room well. Yes, CNN -- no, I think CNN put us up in a tent last time I was out in the field.

What were the amenities most attractive to your readers? What is it that they liked about these places the most? MOTAMED: Well, what the -- as you said, they rate them on a lot of different things. And so different hotels, certainly if you have a great location, a great waterfront location is an ideal thing for our reads. So, for example, the hotel in Cape Town that is new to the list, the Victoria & Alfred (ph) has a location that cannot be beat. Not only are you on the waterfront, but you have views of Table Mountain. If you're going to book a room at the hotel, I would suggest the rooms that have the views, which are the ones that are the odd numbered rooms. This is the kind of specific detail that we get from our readers. They tell us exactly what you should book. You're going to get great views. You're going to get lots of great amenities. And you're going to have access to one of the cities that our readers have rated as one of the world's best, among the top four in the world as -- it's picturesque, the people are friendly, the food is great. If you haven't been to Cape Town, this is the place to check out and definitely stay at this hotel.

HOLMES: It is gorgeous, Cape Town. And good surf, too, if you're an aging surfer like me.

What were some of the biggest concerns, too, that people were having with hotel rooms?

MOTAMED: Well, I think the main concern that people have with hotel rooms is that they're going to have the comfort and have great lighting and make sure that they're going to get their room service in time and certainly value, as you said, is an issue. So which is a reason why the property that won -- that was added in Turks and Caicos really did well because Turks and Caicos is a destination in the Caribbean that is thought of as being rather expensive. And so the readers have chosen an ocean front property right on Grace Bay Beach and they voted for this property -- I'm giving you a little drum roll -- because what they loved about it was that it was on this beautiful location and the best part is that you get two for one. Not only at the ocean club resorts, you get two hotels, and you get to use both facilities. So if you're staying at one, the other one is 15 minutes away. And I love -- what I love about this property and what our readers loved is that it's great for families. So a lot of the rooms have kitchenettes, they have washers and dryers. So if you're looking for a barefoot luxury experience that doesn't break the bank in the Turks and Caicos, this is a great place to go.

HOLMES: My neighbor was -- just got back from there and was recommending it, too. So I'm actually just making notes here as I was looking at that myself.

MOTAMED: I like your neighbor. Maybe they voted on our awards list.

HOLMES: May well have done. Always good to see you. Nilou Motamed there, features director --

MOTAMED: Great to see you too, Michael.

HOLMES: And senior correspondent. What a job. Goodness me. "Travel & Leisure" magazine. Thanks.

MOTAMED: I just need to surf now.

HOLMES: Yes. I'll teach you.

All right. Now this. Check this out. This is from my homeland. Looks like something you might see on Mars. But, no, it wasn't. Right here on earth. We'll tell you what it is when we come back.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

Police in Sydney, Australia, are warning, quote, "moron arsonists," that they will be caught. Several teens, believe it or not, are accused of deliberately setting more than a dozen fires. This amid one of the worst fire seasons in New South Wales history. New South Wales is the most highly populated state in Australia. The country has a total fire ban in place because of these dangers. Record high temperatures. Super dry brush. All sparking a crisis along the east and the south east of the country. Our late monsoon season isn't helping. More than 100 fires are burning in New South Wales alone. Others in Victoria and also the state of Tasmania. Hundreds of homes destroyed, families displaced. But, remarkably, no deaths yet reported. Some injuries, no deaths.

Well, I got some pictures for you now that look like something a Mars rover might send back. But check it out. Well, it's not Mars. That is also down under, Australia. A huge red wall of dust towering off the coast of western Australia. Up in the northwest of the country. Off a place called Onslow. Meteorologists there say a storm picked up tremendous amounts of sand and dust as it passed over the land and a cyclone several hundred miles away stirred up severe weather in the area, too. It all came together to form that incredible wall of dust.

And a CNN staffer's experiment to get his own pictures from outer space as a project for 12 visiting international journalists ended in a crash landing, but some pretty fantastic pictures. We have some shots there from one of the video cameras that we set up with a GPS, a phone and a microphone on a weather balloon south of Atlanta. Yes, we had permission to use the weather balloon from the National Weather Service and the FAA. You can't just go around sending them up, by the way. A warning to you. The entire package, though, ended up crashing after floating in space for a little while. We think it was high winds up there and (INAUDIBLE) broke apart. Check out these pictures. You can hear the sounds there from outer space as the camera was on a free fall 12 miles back to earth. And we didn't get the video actually until six months later because