Washington Swine flu is causing unprecedented illness for so early in the fall — including a worrisome count of child deaths — and the government warned Friday that vaccine supplies will be even more scarce than expected through this month.
Federal health officials said 11 more children have died in the past week because of the virus.
Manufacturer delays mean 28 million to 30 million doses, at most, will be divided around the country by the end of the month, not the 40 million-plus that states had been expecting.
The new count from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention means anxiously awaited flu-shot clinics in some parts of the country may have to be postponed.
It also delays efforts to blunt increasing infections. Overall, what CDC calls the 2009 H1N1 flu is causing widespread disease in 41 states, and about 6 percent of all doctor visits are for flu-like illness — levels not normally seen until much later in the fall.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about half of the child deaths since September have been among teenagers.
And overall for the country, deaths from pneumonia and flu-like illnesses have passed what CDC considers an epidemic level.
About 6 percent of all doctor visits are for flu-like illnesses, levels not normally seen until later in the fall.
The CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat says, “These are very sobering statistics.”
This new strain is different from regular winter flu because it strikes the young far more than the old, and child deaths are drawing particular attention.
Eighty-six children have died of swine flu in the U.S. since it burst on the scene last spring — 43 of those deaths reported in September and early October alone, said CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat.
That’s a startling number because in some past winters, the CDC has counted 40 or 50 child deaths for the entire flu season, she said, and no one knows how long this swine flu outbreak will last. Half of those early fall child deaths are among teenagers, also surprising as preschoolers are thought to be most vulnerable.
Also in contrast to regular winter flu, swine flu sometimes can cause a very severe viral pneumonia in otherwise healthy young adults, the World Health Organization warned Friday.
Typically, influenza weakens people so they’re vulnerable to bacterial pneumonia, especially those over age 65. But the new H1N1 can dive deeper into the lungs, in “small subsets” of patients who go into respiratory failure within days, said WHO medical officer Dr. Nikki Shindo.
“Do not delay the treatment,” she said as WHO ended a three-day meeting of 100 international flu specialists gathered in Washington.
An outbreak of H1N1 Swine Flu was reported in Mexico in April 2009. By the end of May, it had spread across the U.S., with all 50 states reporting cases.