Flu Is Coast To Coast

Washington, D.C. –

Flu Takes Hold Coast to Coast
Steve Sternberg


Influenza completed its west-to-east sweep like a storm front by week's end, sowing chills and fever nationwide and hammering 24 states with widespread illness -- nearly twice as many as last week, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

The evidence suggests that this year's flu season, which started unusually early, is still gathering steam.

''All jurisdictions are reporting flu. There's no indication that flu season has peaked, though it may be leveling off in places that are hardest hit,'' said Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Patients with flu complications including pneumonia, encephalitis and infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria jammed hospitals nationwide.

''As we speak, there's a meeting going on in Nashville because many of the hospitals are full,'' says William Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University. ''We're . . . communicating with each other to make sure that people who have symptoms get medical care.''

Chronic vaccine shortages persist, but Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday that the federal government has bought the last 100,000 doses of adult vaccine and 150,000 doses of children's vaccine available from Aventis Pasteur. The adult doses should be distributed to the states, based on population, in about a week, and the children's vaccine should be distributed in January, Thompson said.

Gerberding says vaccine should first be offered to people 65 and older, those with chronic diseases, infants between 6 and 23 months of age, and women in their second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

As of Dec. 6, the latest date for which information was available, cases continued to mount, many of them among small children and adolescents. Health officials said this week that at least 20 children have died in several states. Three more children 20 months to 16 years old have died of bacterial pneumonia, caused by antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a germ that once could have been easily treated, the CDC reports today in The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Texas officials confirmed flu in 88 pregnant women, one of whom needed intensive care. Only two mothers-to-be had been vaccinated as recommended.

Influenza typically kills about 36,000 people each year in the USA. Gerberding says it's too soon to tell how this epidemic will compare with those of previous years.

Though the vaccine is considered the best protection, there is a chance that there will be more vaccine failures this year than normal. About two-thirds of the flu cases are caused by the A/Fujian strain, which doesn't exactly match the strains used in this year's vaccine.

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Copyright 2003, USA TODAY

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