Wednesday, December 02, 2009

H1N1 widespread but declining. Experts disagree about a 3rd wave of infection this winter.

I read some new information today about H1N1, directly from our country’s primary source. The director of the Centers for Disease Control, which is monitoring the H1N1 pandemic, gave a weekly briefing to the press on Tuesday December 1. A transcript of Dr. Frieden's comments is available on the CDC website.

Following is a condensation of his main points, where he talks about the decline in H1N1 cases over the last 4 weeks, and the uncertainty over whether we will see a third wave during the coming winter. In his remarks, he stresses repeatedly that right now is a good time to try again to get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.  Widespread vaccination could prevent the occurrence of a third wave of H1N1 infections.  In trying to make predictions, Dr. Frieden compares the H1N1 pandemic to the flu pandemic of1957-58.   I found those remarks particularly interesting.  See what he has to say!  There is no better expert on the subject in the United States than the director of the CDC. Following are the words of Dr. Frieden during his December 1 press briefing, edited for brevity:

"We are in a window of opportunity.  We're going from a time where there was lots of disease and not enough vaccines to a time where disease is gradually decreasing and we're having a steady increase in the amount of vaccine available.  That leaves a window of opportunity for people to be protected by getting the vaccine.  The flu virus is unpredictable.  We can't be sure of what will happen in the future.  There's been a decline in activity, but there's still lots of flu.  Flu is widespread in 32 states.  Although flu is going down, it’s far from gone.  And flu season lasts until May.  Only time will tell what the rest of the season will bring.  There are still lots of kids who are sick and lots of people who are at risk of getting influenza and end up getting severely ill from it.

"One question that all of us naturally have is, will we have another wave, or another large number of cases in the months to come, between now and May?  We took an informal poll of about a dozen of some of the world's leading experts in influenza.  About half of them said, yes, we think it's likely that we'll have another surge in cases.  About half said, no, we think it's not likely.  And one said, flip a coin.  We don't know what the future will hold.  What we can do is track it very closely so that as the cases develop or don't develop, we can determine where they're occurring and what their characteristics are.

"It's important to remember that in the last pandemic that behaved this way, 1957-1958, more than 50 years ago, there was a large surge in cases at the beginning of the school year, then a waning of cases, and then in December, January, February, there was a big increase in the number of people who were severely ill or who died.  We don't know if that will happen this year.  We do know that the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself.  

"With the increasing amounts of vaccine available it is a window of opportunity for protection.  There are now nearly 70 million vaccine doses available.  And we're seeing that more people are getting vaccinated. And as that happens, it's harder for the virus to spread.  Increasing supply should lead to the ease of getting vaccinated in many places, but we know it's still far too frustrating.  We know there are lots of people who wanted to get vaccinated but who haven’t been able to get vaccinated yet.  We know from polls that 9 out of 10 people who wanted to get vaccinated and didn’t receive the vaccine, said they would try again.  Now, it's a good time to try again because vaccine is increasingly available.  We're seeing variability. Some states are getting school kids vaccinated and holding back some of the vaccine from doctors' offices.  Other places are mostly working with doctors' offices and not so much with schools.  So there are differences.

"We continue to have not as much vaccine as we would like to at this point.  About a quarter of all of the vaccine that we have available is in the form of nasal spray which is available for people in the age of 2 to 49 who don't have underlying health conditions.  We heard about reluctance on the part of health-care workers and others to get the nasal spray.  There's really no reason to be any less confident in the nasal flu vaccine.

"In summary, we don't know what the future will bring.  We do know that we have more vaccine now.  It is a real window of opportunity to get vaccinated in the coming weeks and months.  And vaccination remains our best protection against the flu and for people who are sick.  It's important still to get prompt treatment.  When you're sick with flu-like symptoms, it may or not be flu, but if you're sick, see a doctor.  Or if you have an underlying health condition like diabetes, it's particularly important to see your doctor.  Thank you."  

So. What do you think? Have you tried to get vaccinated and been unable to?  I would love to hear your comments on my website at or here at

Press Briefing Transcripts
Weekly 2009 H1N1 Flu Media Briefing
December 1, 2009 1:00 p.m.

Keywords:: H1N1 vaccine swine flu CDC pandemic

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