swine flu, doctor, prevention

CDC Emphasizes Prevention in Response to Fall Swine Flu Estimates

August 27, 2009 05:30 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
After the White House released a report estimating that up to 90,000 people could die from swine flu this fall, the CDC has launched an aggressive vaccination campaign.

CDC Prepares for Potential Swine Flu Outbreak

As the school year begins, so does the flu season—this year with added concern over the H1N1 swine flu outbreak. Although the White House released a worst-case scenario estimate of 30,000 to 90,000 people dying from swine flu this fall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is unlikely and is “urging people not to panic,” Lauran Neergaard reports for The Associated Press.

"Everything we've seen in the U.S. and everything we've seen around the world suggests we won't see that kind of number if the virus doesn't change,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the CDC, said in a C-SPAN interview, according to AP. The swine flu strain, though highly contagious, does not appear to be more dangerous than other flu strains common during the fall and winter seasons, Neergaard writes. “In a regular flu season, up to 20 percent of the population is infected and 36,000 die,” AP reports.

According to CNN, Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services Secretary, said that an H1N1 vaccine should be available in mid-October.” Sebelius also warned that swine flu could reappear with renewed strength this fall, and suggested that health authorities could “step back” from preparations but not “wait until October.”

Similarly, President Obama emphasized that local authorities and officials should be prepared for a massive vaccination campaign in the fall, and should consider how schools could be affected by the virus in the fall. “We want to make sure we aren't promoting panic, but we are promoting vigilance and preparation,” CNN quoted him as saying.

Background: The vaccine and who needs it most

A vaccine to combat the effects of the H1N1 virus has been in the works since the flu’s initial outbreak. In July, WebMD presented a swine flu timeline that attempted to predict the evolution of the virus and the development of the vaccine that was to treat it. “Warning: Flu viruses—and flu vaccine production—are notoriously unpredictable,” wrote Daniel J. DeNoon for WebMD. “Many things can change, even by the earliest points of this timeline.”

The CDC Web site offers a Q&A page dedicated to the development of the H1N1 vaccine. Although it doesn’t indicate precise dates, the site explains that the “[v]accine will be shipped to clinics, offices, health departments, and other project area-designated sites” once it’s ready for distribution beginning in the fall. 

In July, ABC News reported that immunization priority will be given to “pregnant women, those who care for infants under six months of age, health care and EMS workers, children and teenagers between ages 6 months and 18 years old, and anyone under the age of 64 [with] underlying medical conditions.” According to a study published in early August in Lancet, a British medical journal, pregnant women have a higher risk of death when infected by the H1N1 virus than other populations, thus warranting their immunization priority. ABC News reports that the study found that “six pregnant women with swine flu died between April 15 and June 16—accounting for 13 percent of the total 45 U.S. deaths reported to the CDC.” 

Prevention: What schools and parents can do

The upcoming start of the school year has parents and educators wondering about the best ways to prevent the spread of the virus in school environments. According to Dr. Peter Beilenson, health officer for Howard County, Maryland, “[p]revention is the key.” Beilenson recommends that school officials remind children and their parents about basic hygiene precautions such as washing hands, and suggests that students stay at home if they show any flu-like symptoms to avoid spreading the virus.

The CDC offers a detailed guide to help deal with potential swine flu outbreaks during the 2009-2010 school year. The document considers both a mild scenario, similar to spring 2009, and the possibility of a more severe scenario, which would call for measures such as active screenings and school dismissals.

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