Friday, November 20th, 2009
H1N1 may be losing speed
Another wave of the flu could be coming though, CDC director says
By Shelley Grieshop
The H1N1 flu virus appears to be slowing its spread across the country, although top officials warn another "wave" could follow.
In a teleconference briefing Thursday afternoon, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention Dr. Thomas Frieden said influenza activity has slightly declined since Oct. 18 when cases hit peak numbers. He noted, however, that widespread activity likely will continue for some time.
"Flu is still at a very high level," he said, adding there are more cases right now than at the peak of the seasonal flu.
When asked by The Daily Standard, Frieden said it was too early to tell whether recent weeks of H1N1 vaccinations to priority groups have slowed the number of new cases.
"I don't think we can credit just one thing at this point. It's just too early. Only time will tell," he added.
According to Dr. Alvin Jackson, director of the Ohio Department of Health and participant in Thursday's briefing, 2,547 people across the state have been hospitalized with H1N1. He added that 42.3 percent of those patients were children ages 0 to 18 years old.
"And sadly, we have 30 confirmed deaths," Jackson said.
Ohio health officials continue their efforts to vaccinate priority groups before giving the green light to provide the H1N1 vaccine to the general public. Priority groups include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, health care and emergency services personnel with direct patient contact, children 6 months through 4 years of age, and children ages 5 through 18 who have chronic medical conditions.
Officials refuse to speculate when the vaccine will be distributed to everyone else.
"We just can't predict how much vaccine we'll have in the future and how much we'll need. It's supply and demand," Frieden said.
He explained that each state must follow the protocol set by CDC for distribution but can determine on their own how to reach the people in their region. Weekly conference calls with state and federal officials help guide local departments and monitor their compliance, Frieden and Jackson said.
According to data received Thursday, Mercer County officials have received 5,700 doses - enough to serve its estimated priority group population.
Auglaize County health officials reportedly have received 6,550 doses - more than enough to vaccinate its 6,283 priority citizens.
Adults must receive two doses approximately one month apart even though preliminary studies have shown that people ages 10 and over are getting a high level of immunity with just one dose.
One of the most challenging efforts has been reaching out to all pregnant women who desire the vaccine, Frieden said. Pregnant women appear to be at higher risk for serious complications, officials have said.
The H1N1 vaccine is free to the public due to a federal allocation of $7 billion to battle the epidemic. The funds pay for the vaccine, as well as public awareness, education and other means.
Frieden did not say how much of the funding has been spent so far but explained it's being "drawn down as needed."
"The vaccine is very cost effective" by keeping businesses going, schools open and the economy on its feet, he explained.
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who initiated the teleconference, is an original co-sponsor of legislation that would guarantee paid sick days for workers with flu-like symptoms or parents of children with symptoms.
"Workers shouldn't be penalized for being sick," Brown said, adding most Americans today do not have paid sick days.
Brown explained that adults who come to work ill are often not very productive and risk spreading influenza to others.
The proposed legislation is in line with CDC recommendations that urge citizens to stay home until they are not running a fever for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medicine.
The legislation has come under scrutiny by some who say it puts a costly burden on small businesses who would be forced to pay workers for the sick day allowances.
Officials continue to urge everyone to take precautions against all types of influenza by washing hands frequently with soap, coughing and sneezing into the elbow or a tissue and seeking vaccinations when available.