As Swine Flu Wanes, Don't Be Fooled

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Although only four states are now reporting widespread H1N1 swine flu activity, U.S. health officials caution that a new outbreak is possible.

People should get vaccinated against the H1N1 flu while there is a lull in flu activity and vaccine supplies are plentiful, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.

"Complacency is probably our top enemy," Schuchat said.

"I am concerned that people may think this is all over," she added. "I would hate for people to make decisions thinking there is no risk and then get sick or severely ill."

Getting vaccinated will reduce your risk, Schuchat said.

"The H1N1 virus is still circulating and still causing disease, hospitalizations and deaths," she said. "Many people are still susceptible to this virus and would benefit from vaccination."

The four states with widespread swine flu activity are Delaware, Maine,New Jersey and Virginia, she said.

So far, 136 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine have been made available. "The vaccine should be pretty much available almost anywhere you live," Schuchat said.

Most states have also opened up vaccination to anyone who wants it, not just those at high risk for complications from the H1N1 flu, she said. Those at high risk include children and young adults, pregnant women and people with chronic health problems such as asthma and heart disease.

But even as the swine flu wanes, health-care providers are seeing more flu activity than usual for this time of year. "All the virus we are seeing right now is the H1N1 virus," Schuchat said. "We haven't yet seen the emergence of seasonal flu strains in any numbers at all."

An uptick in the number of people going to their doctor with flu-like symptoms was noted around Christmas, Schuchat said. "We don't know whether it will persist," she said.

"We also saw an uptick in influenza deaths in this past week," she added. "That isn't something we necessarily see around the Christmas holidays, so that's something we are really keeping our eye on."

Schuchat noted that during the last flu pandemic, in 1957, activity quieted down in December and January, and people weren't encouraged to get vaccinated.

But the flu did return, and people died.

Whether this will happen with the current pandemic is unknown, Schuchat said. But getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself should the swine flu return, she said.

"We need to stay vigilant," Schuchat said.

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SOURCE: Jan. 7, 2010, teleconference with Anne Schuchat, M.D., director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention