H1N1 Swine Flu Down, Not Out

Deaths Still High as Low-Level Flu Spread Continues

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on February 05, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 5, 2010 - H1N1 swine flu is no longer widespread in any state, but new infections continue and the death rate remains high, the CDC reported today.

A Harvard poll shows that about half of Americans believe the H1N1 swine flu outbreak is over, and only a third remain concerned. That may explain why three in four U.S. residents still haven't been vaccinated against the pandemic virus, despite now-plentiful vaccine supplies.

CDC figures clearly show that the fall/winter wave of H1N1 swine flu has long passed its peak. The number of people seeing a doctor about flu symptoms has for three weeks hovered just below epidemic levels.

Yet for the same three weeks, deaths from pneumonia and influenza have been above what CDC calculates to be the seasonal "epidemic threshold."

While flu isn't the cause of all these deaths, this figure -- and reports of nine new pediatric swine flu deaths in the last week of January -- are troubling reminders that H1N1 swine flu continues to infect, sicken, and even kill susceptible people.

"This virus is still around," CDC respiratory disease chief Anne Schuchat, MD, said at a news conference. "People are being hospitalized and are dying. ... The virus is still spreading and those not who have not been vaccinated still are vulnerable."

Schuchat admits that there may not be another huge wave of H1N1 swine flu infections. But she noted that ongoing spread means cases "really can add up over time."

A CDC survey conducted in the last week of January found that about 70 million U.S. residents -- 23.4% of the population -- have been vaccinated with the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. Extensive data on the first 61 million doses administered indicate that the vaccine is safe.

The Harvard poll, conducted Jan. 20-24, shows that over half of parents either got their children vaccinated or plan to do so by the end of February.

However, the CDC survey shows that only 37% of children who got a first dose of the vaccine got their second dose. Without a second dose, a child remains unprotected.

"I urge parents to take their kids back for their second dose," Schuchat said. "It would be tragic for you to go so far to do the right thing and then have your child get sick."

Since vaccine distribution began, 124 million doses of the vaccine have been shipped around the U.S. At least 155 million doses will be made available in the U.S., which has enough bulk vaccine to make 229 million doses.

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Anne Schuchat, MD, director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC.

News release, Harvard School of Public Health.

Harvard School of Public Health: "H1N1 Flu Vaccination January Poll."

CDC: "2009-2010 Influenza Season Week 4 Ending January 20, 2010," Feb. 5, 2010.

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