Pennsylvania sees H1N1 surge, but vaccine lags far behind

October 29, 2009 3:25:49 PM PDT
Pennsylvania has seen cases of flu-like illnesses increase 10-fold in the past 2 weeks.

That's according to reports today from the state's top health officials.

They say cases are mounting far faster than the pace with which h1N1 vaccine is arriving in the Commonwealth.

The officials say that almost 1.8 million doses of swine flu vaccine were originally projected to be sent to the state by now, but less than half as many have been actually delivered.

"And, I think that there's no question that if you look at those graphs that the virus has gotten out ahead of the vaccine supply. The problem that we have is that we're not in control."

At this point, Pennsylvania is expected to receive a cumulative total of 6 million doses by mid-January but that's still more than a million fewer than providers have requested.

Health officials say if those projections are met it'll be important because there's likely to be a "spring wave" of the virus.

Meantime, nationally, as many as 5.7 million Americans were infected with swine flu during the first few months of the pandemic, according to estimates from federal health officials.

Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 1.8 million and 5.7 million Americans were infected from mid-April through July 23. The figures are the CDC's most specific calculation to date.

They also estimated that between 9,000 and 21,000 hospitalizations occurred during that time. The estimates are in a CDC publication, Emerging Infectious Diseases, and were posted on the journal's Web site this week.

To come up with the numbers, the scientists assumed that most people infected with swine had only mild illnesses and did not get medical care or get tested. For every confirmed case, they estimated that probably 80 others occurred. And for every confirmed hospitalization, there were probably three others.

Rates of testing and hospitalization have dropped since the pandemic began, so the same calculation couldn't be done for cases since late July.

For that reason, CDC officials are saying simply that "many millions" of Americans have been infected to date, the CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat said at a press conference Thursday in Atlanta.

Schuchat also provided an update on a shortage of the children's version of the drug Tamiflu, a first-line treatment for swine flu.

The shortage first emerged last month. Since then, the federal government has released 300,000 pediatric Tamiflu doses to the states from a national medicine stockpile.

The shortage occurred because the drug's manufacturer, Switzerland-based Roche Holdings, decided to focus production on adult-strength capsules as it dealt with increasing demand for the medication.

Though there are scattered shortages of pediatric doses, adult-strength Tamiflu pills are in good supply and pharmacies can turn them into a Tamiflu syrup for children, said Schuchat, who heads the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

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