New approach to the flu


POSTED: Monday, August 31, 2009

Careful not to repeat April's overblown alarm about the catastrophe possible from the spread of swine flu, federal and state officials are taking more care in assessing the future spread. More deaths are likely to occur, they say, but not much greater in number than those caused by seasonal flu.

The projections were made as Sarah Park, Hawaii's state epidemiologist, encouraged residents to get seasonal flu shots while awaiting the availability of swine flu vaccine, expected in mid-October at the earliest. “;Seasonal flu kills and pandemic influenza shouldn't be expected to act any differently,”; she said.

Park said the Food and Drug Administration had put out word that the upcoming vaccine would be “;a simple strain change from the regular formula. It will be a fully licensed vaccine.”; It will likely be administered in two doses, she said.

A White House advisory panel estimated earlier last week that as many as 90,000 deaths in the United States were “;a plausible scenario”; for a second wave of infections by the H1N1, the swine flu. The next day, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Centers for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said, “;We don't necessarily see this as a likely scenario,”; even though the report's authors emphasized, “;This is a planning scenario, not a prediction.”;

As a summary of the White House report was handed out to reporters, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of health and human services, did not mention its forecast of 30,000 to 90,000 deaths, more than twice the 36,000 deaths normally caused by seasonal flu. Swine flu this year has caused 522 deaths, including six in Hawaii, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fortunately, Vice President Joe Biden, who outraged the travel industry in May by saying he would tell his family members to avoid putting themselves in “;a confined aircraft,”; had no comment on the present situation.

About 700 schools were closed at that time, but federal officials now recommend instead that school officials recommend that sick children stay at home and be subjected to strict hygiene.

The scare in May, following swine flu's emergence in Mexico, was reminiscent of the reaction to the estimate in 2005 of Dr. David Nabarro of the United Nations that an outbreak of the H5N1 avian flu could kill 5 million to 150 million people. The avian flu did not transfer easily between people, and only 262 deaths have been attributed to it.