Flu activity down, but related deaths up

Jan 22, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Only five states reported widespread influenza cases last week, but the nationwide number of child deaths related to the flu this season climbed to 111, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said today.

Only Delaware, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont had widespread flu activity in the week that ended Jan 17, the CDC says in the Jan 23 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Regional activity was reported in 31 states, while eight had local activity and six had sporadic cases. Twenty states had reported widespread cases the previous week.

Also, there were signs that physicians were seeing fewer patients with flu-like illnesses. The proportion of patient visits to about 1,000 sentinel healthcare providers for flu-like symptoms dropped to 2.0%, which was below the CDC's estimated national baseline of 2.5% and the previous week's 2.8%.

However, 10.3% of all deaths in 122 cities were ascribed to pneumonia and influenza, compared with 10.2% the previous week, the CDC reported. The figure remained above the CDC-defined epidemic threshold of 8.1%.

Preliminary data from 33 states showed a total of 111 flu-related deaths among children as of Jan 20, according to the CDC. On Jan 8 the agency had reported 93 flu-related child deaths among children in 31 states. Colorado and Texas had the most deaths with 12 each.

The children's median age was 4 years, and 64 of the 111 were younger than 5 years. Twenty-one children had medical conditions that increased their risk of flu complications. Of those whose vaccination status was known, three had had flu shots and 49 were unvaccinated.

In other flu news, the makers of FluMist, the intranasal flu vaccine that debuted in 2003, said this week that they would give 250,000 doses of the vaccine to public health agencies. The Washington Post and Associated Press (AP) said state and local health agencies can order the vaccine from MedImmune Inc. and Wyeth, the firms that respectively make and market the product.

A Wyeth spokesman said the move was a goodwill gesture in the face of the current shortage of injectable flu vaccine, according to an AP report.

MedImmune and Wyeth previously said they prepared about 4 million doses of the vaccine, which has a wholesale price of $46 a dose. In December the companies made a deal with the CDC to sell it for $20 a dose. The AP report said that agreement triggered sales of about 69,200 doses. FluMist is currently approved only for people between the ages of 5 and 49, ruling out two of the groups at high risk for flu complications.

See also:

CDC. Update: influenza activity—United States, January 11-17, 2004. MMWR 2004;53(2):35-7

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