Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Homeland Secretary Napolitano predicts severe flu epidemic for fall:


By Steve Sternberg, USA TODAY
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano asserted Tuesday that pandemic flu is likely to flare up soon after schools open in the fall, well before any vaccine is available.

Napolitano also acknowledged that there would not be enough pandemic flu vaccine for everyone, at least in the early stages of the flu season. "There will be prioritization of vaccinations," she told members of the USA TODAY editorial board.

The flu strain causing the pandemic, a new strain of H1N1 flu that is also known as swine flu, is especially dangerous because it is genetically different from virtually every other known flu virus. As a result, most people are defenseless against it — making vaccine the keystone of any effort to prevent illness and save lives.

Napolitano said the flu epidemic is likely to be severe, but not as severe as the 1918 pandemic, the world's worst. In 1918, flu killed at least 675,000 people in the USA and up to 50 million worldwide. She said it's more likely that the pandemic would mirror 1957, when flu killed about 70,000 people in the USA and more than one million people worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's about twice the death toll of seasonal flu, which annually kills about 36,000 people and results in 200,000 hospitalizations.

Napolitano's statement that flu vaccine will be provided first to certain high risk groups indicates that the Obama administration accepts the consensus now established among public health experts inside of government and elsewhere.

Last week, a panel of experts advised the CDC that the first vaccinations should go to pregnant women; parents and contacts of children younger than six months; health care workers; all children and young adults and all non-elderly adults with chronic medical conditions.

The government has ordered 195 million doses of swine flu vaccine from five manufacturers, along with immune boosters called adjuvants that may be needed to ramp up the vaccine's potency. So far, the federal government has spent about $1 billion on pandemic flu vaccine, with an additional $350 million disbursed to states, territories and hospitals for more vaccine purchases and to build surge capacity in emergency rooms and intensive care units.

Who Should Be The First In Line For Shots?

The following people should be given priority when a pandemic flu vaccine is available:
Groups: Estimated number in USA

Pregnant women: 5 million

Parents and caregivers of children younger than 6 months: 4 million

Health care workers: 14 million

Persons between the ages 6 months and 24 years: 102 million

Adults from 19 to 64 with chronic diseases: 34 million

Total: 159 million

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