US flu season continues slow start
US flu activity increased slightly again last week, reflecting a season that's off to a slower start compared with the previous year, according to the latest data today from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In a snapshot of this season in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), the agency said peak flu activity typically occurs anytime from December to March, with last season's flu increasing in November and peaking in December.
In its latest FluView report, covering activity through Dec 5, the CDC said that, at the national level, flu markers are still below baselines. For example, the percentage of clinic visits for flulike illness is at 1.8%, remaining below the national baseline of 2.1%. Two systems that track deaths from flu and pneumonia were also below their epidemic thresholds.
Two pediatric flu deaths were reported last week, one of which occurred during the previous flu season. So far three flu deaths in children have been reported for the current season.
South Carolina was the lone state to report high flulike illness activity, another measure of clinic visits for the disease. Guam reported widespread flu circulation, and Puerto Rico reported regional flu spread. Ten states reported local flu spread: Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas.
In the MMWR report, the CDC said that during the first 2 months of the flu season, H3N2 was identified most often, but 2009 H1N1 and influenza B viruses have also been detected. So far no notable drift has been seen in circulating flu viruses, but it's possible that it still could occur, the agency said. Last season was marked by significant drift in the H3N2 strain, accompanied by limited protection from the flu vaccine.
Dec 11 CDC FluView report
Dec 11 CDC MMWR report
HHS funds development of high-speed manufacture of respirators
To protect healthcare workers and other caregivers in a flu pandemic or other public health emergency, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) yesterday announced a contract for the development of a high-speed manufacturing process to produce N95 respirators.
ASPR's Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) awarded Halyard Health, formerly Kimberly-Clark Health Care, of Alpharetta, Ga., $1.6 million over 14 months to develop the system. The contract can be extended for 2 years and $5 million, HHS said in a press release.
US manufacturers currently can produce up to about 150,000 respirators a day on one machine, HHS said. The goal of the BARDA-supported project is for Halyard Health to design equipment that can produce 1 million to 2 million N95 respirators in a day.
A 2006 analysis by the Institute of Medicine estimated that at least 90 million filtering face-piece respirators like N95s would be needed in a 42-day period to treat US patients during a flu pandemic, HHS said in the release.
Dec 10 HHS press release