Continuing activity of pandemic H1N1 influenza in the Southeast, particularly in Georgia, is raising fears of a third wave of swine flu, federal officials said Monday. They urged people to continue getting vaccinated as a preventive measure in case a new outbreak occurs.
Although swine flu activity is still low in most of the country, flu-related hospitalizations in Georgia have, since the beginning of February, been higher than they were last October at the height of the second wave of swine flu, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a telephone news conference. A CDC team was sent March 6 to assist state officials investigating the outbreak, but they have so far found nothing unusual related to the outbreak or the virus itself. "There is no evidence the virus has changed in Georgia," she said. Alabama and South Carolina are also reporting regional activity of the virus, and some unusual activity has also been noted in Hawaii and New Mexico.
The Southeast is where the second wave of the pandemic began last fall, but experts generally attributed that to the earlier start of school in the region.
Swine flu has so far infected about 60 million Americans, with 265,000 hospitalized and about 12,000 dead. Although a normal flu season is usually associated with nearly three times that number of deaths, officials are concerned about the ages of victims. Seasonal flu normally kills mostly the elderly, but swine flu is killing adults under the age of 65, particularly those who have underlying health conditions or who are pregnant. The death rate among adults under 65 "is five times higher than what we typically see with seasonal flu," Schuchat said.
At least 35 million doses of swine flu vaccine are currently available and Schuchat and Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin urged everyone--but especially those with underlying health issues--to get vaccinated.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II