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Swine flu: weekly case figures to come soon, some pregnant women hospitalized, more Tamiflu available, and other news

October 1, 2009 | 11:20 am


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will release its weekly figures on the spread of pandemic H1N1 influenza Friday, and "I expect that we will be reporting substantial illness in most of the country--virtually all states," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said in a news conference this morning. A report Wednesday indicated that the number of new infections on college campuses declined slightly last week, but there is no evidence of any weakening of the current outbreak, she said, and, in fact, it appears to be growing.

The most recent numbers for severe illness from swine flu in pregnant women, through late August, indicate that about 100 of them had been in hospital intensive care units with complications and 28 of them had died. The CDC has not tracked flu complications in pregnant women in the past, so there is no baseline to measure from. But obstetricians "say they have never seen this kind of thing before," Schuchat said. Treatment with antiviral drugs like Tamiflu "can be very important" in saving the lives of pregnant women, she said. And "vaccination is the best way to protect yourself."

The CDC had reported last week that there was a shortage of an oral suspension of Tamiflu for treating infants and young children. Schuchat said that, as of Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius had released 300,000 courses of liquid Tamiflu from the national stockpile, to be made available to states on a pro rata basis. The first shipments went out today, with 22,000 courses going to Texas and 4,600 to Colorado. The Tamiflu that is being released is technically past its shelf expiration date, but careful testing by the Food and Drug Administration shows that it retains its full potency, Schuchat said.

The CDC received its first orders for swine flu vaccine Wednesday from 25 localities, and expects to receive more today and Friday, she said. The first batches of vaccine, composed primarily of the nasal spray vaccine FluMist will be shipped Monday and will reach local sites Tuesday. Schuchat said 6 million to 7 million doses total will be available next week, and that subsequent weeks should average about 20 million doses.

In data released Wednesday, CDC researchers studied autopsy results from 77 people who died of swine flu complications and found that in a third of the cases, the patient suffered from pneumonia caused by a bacterial infection. More than half of those were associated with Streptococcus pneumoniae. The good news, Schuchat said, is that "we have a vaccine for that." The bad news is that, for non-elderly adults, only about one in five of those who should be getting the vaccine, called PneumoVax, actually do.


- Sanofi Pasteur, the largest supplier of seasonal flu vaccines, said it has encountered delays in shipping the vaccine because of the emphasis on producing the swine flu vaccine. The company said that it has shipped half of the 50.5 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine destined for the United States, but that additional doses may be delayed until November. Overall, about 70 million of the nation's 114 million doses have now been delivered.

- Worst-case scenarios for the H1N1 pandemic suggest that a third of Americans could become infected by the virus. If that happens, the number of people hospitalized could range from a high of 168,025 in California to a low of 2,485 in Wyoming, according to a new report from the Trust for America's Health. Fifteen states would run out of hospital beds during the peak of the epidemic, and another 12 could exceed 75% of their capacity, according to the report. California, with 12.9 million infections, would be at 125% of hospital capacity. Worst affected would be Delaware, at 203% of capacity.

- A new poll from Consumer Reports finds that even though more than half of parents are concerned that their children will contract swine flu, only 35% plan to have them vaccinated. Most cited concerns about the safety of the vaccine and the supposed lack of testing. Schuchat noted, however, that no corners had been cut in testing the vaccine. "It is produced exactly the same way as seasonal flu vaccines. We have gone an extra step and are doing additional clinical trials" and those have shown no problems at all. Nearly 60% of the parents said they did not get the seasonal flu vaccine last year and did not plan to do so this year either.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II