Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2003

Flu spreads across country

December 13, 2003


Hundreds of people lined up for free flu shots Friday and some hospitals were discouraging visitors after officials announced the flu had spread to all 50 states, nearly half of those considered hit hard by the illness.

Bundled in coats and under blankets outside the West Oaks Mall in Ocoee, Fla., near Orlando, 300 to 400 people waited for a chance at the remaining free flu vaccines there, even though the flu is not considered widespread in that state.

In Albany, N.Y., and elsewhere, health departments and doctors' offices have been so swamped with people looking for a flu vaccine some have exhausted their supplies. A hospital in Asheville, N.C., began restricting patient visitors Friday to ward off the flu's spread, and another in Gastonia, N.C., was discouraging visitors.

"I think what we're seeing is a natural response to concerns about a serious flu season," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Julie Gerberding said Friday on NBC-TV's "Today" show. "But we also need to remember that for almost everyone, flu is not such a serious disease.

"We don't need to panic or assume that the worst case scenario is going to happen to everyone. Most of us will get through this fine."

The federal government announced Thursday it was scrambling to ship 100,000 adult vaccine doses to combat the shortages, hoping to head off what could become one of the worst flu outbreaks in years, and 150,000 child vaccines are expected in January.

The number of states with widespread infections has nearly doubled to 25 in the past week, and the season has not yet peaked nationally, the CDC said Thursday.

Worried parents are rushing to find shots even though many clinics are out or about to run out of the vaccine.

"I really was desperate," said Joy Thompson of Valencia, Calif., who found 300 people waiting to get the vaccine at her daughters' pediatrics office and couldn't endure the three-hour line. She later got the vaccine from her mother, a nurse.

Schools have shut down. Emergency rooms have been filled with sick children. And doctors' offices have been forced to turn away droves of people seeking flu shots.

States are not required to track the number of flu cases, so the exact total is not clear; however, at least 20 children have died nationwide during this outbreak.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department will give flu shots starting at 10 a.m. Saturday at its clinic, 200 Maine, to patients deemed at risk of serious complications from the flu.That includes children from 6 months to 23 months old; people 65 or older; pregnant women in their second or third trimester; and anyone with a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, asthma or weakened immune systems.

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