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Swine Flu Still Strikes Younger People Hardest

90 percent of deaths since Sept. 1 were among those under 65, CDC says

TUESDAY, Oct. 20 (HealthDay News) -- The H1N1 swine flu epidemic continues to strike younger people, a U.S. health official said Tuesday, noting that nearly 90 percent of deaths since Sept. 1 were among those under 65 years of age.

"This is dramatically different than what we see with seasonal flu," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during a press conference. "For seasonal flu, 90 percent of fatalities occur in people 65 and over -- it's almost completely reversed here," she said.

"Essentially this is a young person's disease," Schuchat added. "We don't have reporting from every single state and we know we are missing cases, so the numbers will be underestimates, but it can be helpful in illustrating some of the patterns we are seeing."

According to data collected from 28 states from Sept. 1 to Oct. 10, nearly 24 percent of deaths were among people under age 25, about 65 percent of deaths were among those 25 to 64, and only 11.6 percent of the deaths were among people 65 and older, she said.

"Each one of these cases is tragic for the family and hard for us in public health to see," she added.

Schuchat said she expects the swine flu epidemic to continue throughout the winter and into the spring, and wouldn't be surprised to see a renewed outbreak later in the season.

"We do think there will be illness, including severe illness, for some time in the future," she said. "We may see in any particular community some illness going down in the next several weeks, but we don't know whether it's going to go up again."

Schuchat noted that during the 1957-1958 Asian flu pandemic there was an outbreak in September and October, but "they had another big wave after the first of the year."

Meanwhile, the H1N1 swine flu vaccine remains in short supply. Last week federal officials said there had been delays in producing the vaccine, and the goal of 40 million doses by the end of October would be missed.

Schuchat has said in the past that the federal government expects 190 million doses of H1N1 swine flu vaccine by the end of the year.

As of Monday, a total of 12.8 million doses had been received by the U.S. government, up from 9.8 million doses last week. More than half of those vaccines are injectable; the remainder is in the form of a nasal spray known as FluMist, she said.

"I understand and share everyone's desire to have more vaccine. I wish that we had more than we have right now, but we do have more coming out every day," Schuchat said.

During the six-week period ending Oct. 10, 27 states had reported 4,958 people hospitalized with H1N1 swine flu. More than half -- 53 percent -- of those hospitalized were people under the age of 25. Thirty-nine percent were 25 to 54 years of age, and only 7 percent of hospitalizations involved people 65 and older, Schuchat said.

Schuchat also said new guidance on the use of antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu stresses the need to start treatment early and not wait for confirming tests, especially among children, pregnant women and those most at risk for complications from the swine flu.

Schuchat also urged people to get their seasonal flu shot. Eighty-two million doses of seasonal flu vaccine have been distributed, with a total of about 114 million doses expected through the rest of the season, she said.

More information

For more information on H1N1 swine flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Oct. 20, 2009, teleconference with Anne Schuchat, M.D., director, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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