76 Children Dead From Swine Flu: CDC

Finding highlights the need for kids to be vaccinated against the disease, experts say

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Oct. 9 (HealthDay News) -- Underscoring the threat that the H1N1 swine flu poses to children, U.S. health officials said Friday that 76 children have died from the disease since it appeared in April, including 19 in the past week alone.

Over the last three years, deaths among children from the regular seasonal flu ranged from 46 to 88, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during an afternoon press conference.

"So we have already had 76 children dying from the 2009 H1N1 virus, and it's only the beginning of October," she said. "We are seeing more illness, more hospitalizations and more deaths each week from the flu. Virtually all the virus circulating right now is the H1N1 2009 virus."

About 30 percent of the children who died had chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy, Schuchat said.

The H1N1 flu is now widespread in 37 states, up from 27 states last week, Schuchat said. And the flu has returned to areas hard hit by the disease last spring, she noted.

Responding to a report Thursday in The New York Times that cities -- such as Boston, New York City and Philadelphia -- hit hard by the swine flu in the spring are seeing less flu now, Schuchat said it's too early to tell if that will be the case as the H1N1 flu continues to spread.

Schuchat said it's also too early to say what the regular seasonal flu might be like this fall and winter. The season for seasonal flu is usually December through May. But a pandemic flu such as the H1N1 swine flu -- the first pandemic in 40 years -- has no season and has been circulating since April, she said.

"We still think the vast majority of people in a given community are vulnerable or susceptible to this [H1N1] virus," she said. "And, of course, vaccination is the best way to protect yourself or those you love from influenza."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during the press conference that people can get both their seasonal flu shot and their H1N1 shot at the same time.

"We are pleased to report that the vaccines when given simultaneously do not impair the immune response to either of the vaccines," he said.

The first doses of the H1N1 vaccine were distributed this week in the form of a nasal spray called FluMist. While FluMist is effective, it's recommended only for people 2 to 49 years of age who are healthy and are not pregnant.

The first doses of injectable vaccine are expected to ship next week, Schuchat said. Those who should be first in line include health-care workers, pregnant women, children, and people who care for infants, according to the CDC.

Right now, 6.8 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are available, Schuchat said. The CDC expects to have 40 million doses available by the end of the month and 190 million doses by the end of the year.

Schuchat reiterated that the H1N1 vaccine is safe and made in the same way as regular flu vaccine. "In future years this same particular [H1N1] virus might be in the seasonal flu vaccines that we offer," she said.

So far, 77 million doses of seasonal flu vaccine have been distributed, Schuchat said, adding that the vaccine has been in short supply in some areas. "There is time to get the regular flu vaccine, and more is coming out regularly," she said.

Fauci updated results from two H1N1 clinical trials, which confirmed that a single dose is sufficient to produce an adequate immune response in healthy adults. A second dose did not substantially enhance the immune response, he said.

"This confirms the concept that a single dose of 15 micrograms is sufficient to induce a robust response that you would predict would be protective," he said.

Children are to get two doses of the H1N1 swine flu vaccine, the same as the seasonal flu vaccine, because their still-developing immune systems need the added protection.

Fauci said new trials of the H1N1 vaccine will get under way soon. One trial will include pregnant women infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and another, young adults infected with HIV since birth. A third trial will test the vaccine in children with asthma who take corticosteroids.