Pandemic H1N1 influenza continues to decline in the United States, with 25 states reporting widespread activity during Thanksgiving week, compared to 32 states the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today. But even that is more than is normal at this time of year, said CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, and it continues to affect young people disproportionately compared to seasonal flu. There were 17 new cases of laboratory-confirmed pediatric swine flu deaths during the week, bringing the total since the beginning of the outbreak in April to 210. That's more than three times the number of pediatric deaths in a normal flu season, he said.
So far, researchers are seeing very few signs of seasonal flu circulating, but they are noting an increase in other viruses that cause colds and flu-like symptoms. Agency officials hope that increasing availability of swine flu vaccine will head off a second wave of swine flu after the first of the year, but influenza is so unpredictable, Frieden said, that "all bets are off."
Frieden said there are now 73 million doses of the vaccine available, twice the number available a month ago and 10 million more than last week. He said the agency expects another 10 million doses next week.
He also said that the shortage of liquid forms of the antiviral drug Tamiflu is now effectively over. Supplies released from the national stockpile bridged the gap until Roche was able to begin manufacturing more of the drug in that form, and the company is now restocking pharmacy shelves. There may be spot shortages, he said, but by and large the supply is good.
The agency has released preliminary data on the safety of the swine flu vaccine, and so far the information "is very reassuring," Frieden said. The agency has particularly been monitoring the incidence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which was a problem in the 1976 swine flu outbreak, with an incidence eight to 10 times above normal. So far, "we have not seen an increase. The likelihood that we will have a 1976-like problem is vanishingly remote."
-- Thomas H. Maugh II