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CDC Briefing: Flu Widespread in U.S., But Starting to Ease

Millions of vaccine units remain available (Jan. 18)

In a telebriefing held on January 18, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reported to the press that influenza remains widespread in the U.S., although there are signs that the current epidemic is easing. Overall, he said, this year “is shaping up to be a worse-than-average season and a bad season, particularly, for the elderly.”

Frieden noted that while the national rate of flu-like illness was down slightly from the week before — from 4.8% to 4.3% — some parts of the country, such as the West, are showing increases. Forty-eight states have reported widespread geographic flu activity. Moreover, the hospitalization rate for people aged 65 years and older increased sharply to 82 per 100,000, which Frieden described as “quite high.” An estimated 90% of flu-related deaths occur in this age group.

Frieden also reported that an additional nine pediatric deaths occurred in the past week, bringing the total to 29. This number is well below the 153 deaths reported during the 2003–2004 flu season, which also had H3N2 as the predominant strain. Since the current flu season is only half over, however, Frieden expects to see the rates of both deaths and hospitalizations increase in the coming weeks.

Although “spot shortages” of flu vaccine have been reported around the country, 145 million units were manufactured and 129 million have been distributed, Frieden said — meaning that millions of units are still available to providers. In his opinion, it’s not too late to be vaccinated.

Frieden was joined in the briefing by Dr. Peggy Hamburg, commissioner of the FDA, who spoke on the subject of antivirals. Hamburg reported that some locations may experience temporary shortages of the oral-suspension form of Tamiflu — the liquid version often prescribed for children. She reminded healthcare professionals that FDA-approved instructions in the labeling for Tamiflu capsules provide directions for pharmacists on how to make a liquid form of Tamiflu from the capsules if the oral-suspension product is unavailable. Hamburg added that providers still have access to the Tamiflu 30- and 40-mg capsules, and that pediatric patients aged 1 year and older can be correctly dosed with those capsules.

To help avoid a potential shortage, the FDA is allowing the manufacturer, Genentech, to distribute two million units of Tamiflu at the 75-mg dose. These capsules, however, will have an older version of the package insert, which does not include instructions on making an oral suspension or new dosing information for pediatric patients aged less than 1 year.

Source: CDC; January 18, 2012.

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