Sept. 8, 2009 -- Outbreaks on college campuses are signaling swine flu hot spots as fast-spreading H1N1 swine flu
gives an early start to the fall flu season.
College campuses as far apart as Emory in urban Atlanta and Washington State
in rural Pullman report explosive outbreaks of swine flu. The action isn't all
on campus: Elementary and high schools are also seeing a lot of flu; 24 schools
last week dismissed 25,000 students because of flu outbreaks.
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One of the CDC's main indicators of flu season is the number of people
seeing a doctor for flu-like illness. That statistic last week shot sharply up.
That uptick was mainly because of swine-flu hot spots in the Southeastern U.S.,
with flare-ups in widely separated communities across the nation.
"It is time to pay attention," the CDC's disease chief, Anne Schuchat, MD,
said today at a news conference.
The CDC can't predict where swine flu will strike next, how long it will
linger in communities, or when it will come back. Yet so far, the pandemic is
developing very much as experts expected:
The vast majority of swine flu cases have been mild, with people getting
over the worst of it in three to five days.
Swine flu spreads most quickly among children, teens, and young
In every nation, the pandemic appears as a series of widely separated
community hot spots that flare up and die down -- not as a wave moving from
east to west or north to south.
Children and adults at risk for flu complications -- those with lung
conditions (including asthma), neurologic
conditions, heart conditions, immune suppression, pregnancy, or under 5 years
old -- tend to be those with the most severe disease.
Because some previously healthy children and adults have died of swine flu,
it's important to be on the lookout for severe
symptoms in anyone who has a flu-like illness. This is particularly true
for children under 2.
Even though things are turning out as expected, Schuchat says the CDC is not
ready to relax. And neither should we.
"Our prediction is it is going to be a busy and long flu season," Schuchat
said. "We need to be prepared through the fall and winter and even into the
One reason the CDC can't relax is that flu viruses can change with
remarkable speed. They can become more or less virulent. And as often happens
with seasonal flu bugs, they eventually get around flu
"The H1N1 influenza viruses that have been tested as recently as a couple of
weeks ago are close matches, essentially the same as those in the vaccine,"
Schuchat said. "That does not mean that in a couple of months or weeks from now
that won't change."