Hawaii sees threefold
increase in flu cases
But health officials point out
that the number of cases in past
years has been below average
Influenza cases in Hawaii are up more than threefold from a year ago, state health officials said yesterday.
But they also cautioned that the number of flu cases reported in Hawaii the past two winters were far below average. In addition, they said, this year's flu season began earlier than normal, making the contrast appear worse.
Doctors report influenza cases as the percentage of their patients who show flu symptoms.
During Christmas week 2003, 10.7 percent of patients had flu symptoms, compared with 3.1 percent during the same week a year earlier.
"Actually, 10 percent is not an unusually high number, but it looks high because flu cases in the past two years were so low," said Health Department spokeswoman Laura Lott.
The new flu statistics were announced simultaneously with the availability of 5,000 doses of a vaccine inhaled through the nose.
Lott said the vaccine was made available to the state at about half the regular price by its manufacturer, MedImmune Vaccines Inc., and the supply will be made available at no charge to doctors throughout the state.
The state does not normally order vaccines, a role left to health care organizations and individual physicians, Lott said.
Many health care facilities have run short of the standard flu vaccine, administered by injection. It contains a dead virus and does not cause flu symptoms.
The shortage has led to the rationing of the vaccine, with priority given to high-risk people.
The nasal mist will not be used for high-risk patients because it is a weakened but still live virus that may cause mild flu symptoms. It is being limited to people between the ages of 5 and 49 who are considered healthy. The spray is administered in a doctor's office.
Kaiser Permanente spokeswoman Jan Kagehiro said the HMO ordered more regular vaccine for this season than last year but that publicity about shortages elsewhere brought an unusually high number of Kaiser patients seeking shots.
She said demand peaked the week before Christmas and is expected to increase again next week.
Kaiser is giving at-risk patients the highest priority, which it had not needed to do a month ago, she said.