Citing mistakes made in the 1957 flu pandemic, federal officials on Thursday urged hesitant Americans to get vaccinated now against swine flu to prevent any possibility of another wave of illness and deaths.
Vaccine is now plentiful across the country, and most states are encouraging people of all ages to get shots, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of immunization and respiratory disease for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When supplies were short, most states tried to limit the vaccine to children, pregnant women and others at higher risk.
In 1957, Dr. Schuchat said, officials “gave the all-clear whistle” in midwinter and did not encourage flu shots, which were then rarer and also less purified. As a result, she said, there was another substantial wave of deaths in March 1958.
But she conceded that no pandemic was identical to any other. The death rate from swine or H1N1 flu appears to be about a quarter of that of the 1957 flu, but that may be because of antiviral drugs and better ventilators, not the virus itself.
Flu activity across the country is far below its late-October peak, but still higher than normal for this time in most years. It is almost all still swine flu; almost no seasonal flu has been found, and Dr. Schuchat urged doctors to send more samples to state laboratories.
Pneumonia and flu deaths ticked up slightly, which officials were “really keeping our eye on,” she said. The percentage of doctor visits that involved flu symptoms also rose, but that is normal during Christmas vacation because few people schedule routine checkups. There is no way to know if the unusually cold weather has played a part, she said.
The disease centers’ “best guess” is that 60 million people have been vaccinated. There are now 136 million doses available from many sources, including city clinics, schools, private doctors and pharmacy chains.
(source: New York Times)