As Early, Severe Flu Season Takes Hold, Vaccine Shortages Abound

Article excerpt

Eight deaths due to influenza in the 2003-2004 season have been confirmed in children younger than 16 years in Colorado at press time, local authorities said. In addition, unconfirmed reports of flu-related pediatric deaths in Texas remain under investigation.

At press time, flu activity had been reported in every state plus Washington, D.C., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Widespread activity has been reported in 24 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

The pediatric deaths plus the early and severe influenza seen so far this year may be due in part to a variant flu virus, A/Fujian (H3N2). This variant was identified too late last season to be part of this year's vaccine, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC, said in a press conference.

However, the 2003-2004 vaccine protects against several other viral strains. The Fujian strain is a variant of one of the viruses on which the vaccine is based, so it will likely provide some protection and reduce the severity of disease among people who receive flu shots this year.

The frequency and severity of cases so far this year has led to regional vaccine shortages, but the CDC is working with local public health officials to redistribute existing vaccine to areas where it is most needed, for the highrisk individuals. …


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