The latest on a growing threat
Swine Flu Update: College "Holding Pen"; Novartis Shot Ready, and More
September 11, 2009
With a new school year beginning and flu season looming, the U.S. is planning a vaccination campaign against the H1N1 flu for kids at schools and community centers across the country where kids can get free shots, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius says. Vaccines are expected to be ready by mid-October but will not offer full protection until mid-November.
Holding Pen at Emory
College students unlucky enough to have caught the flu are being quarantined in what the kids at Emory University in Atlanta have dubbed "holding pens." About 100 Emory students are being sequestered, The New York Times reports.
There are now more than 2,000 swine flu victims on college campuses, according to an American College Health Association survey.
Every Sneeze and Sniffle
Parents of younger kids are calling their doctors, concerned about their every sneeze and sniffle. But it appears that the H1N1 virus, now circulating in the Southern Hemisphere, is mild, and appears to be much like seasonal flu. Still, CDC officials say, it is possible swine flu might mutate into a more virulent form when it re-emerges this fall. Everyone is bracing for this possibility.
High-Risk Patients Should be Medicated
Children with nerve and muscle disorders, who can't cough hard enough to clear their airways, are at higher risk for complications and should get quick treatment with either Tamiflu or Relenza if they catch the flu, as these drugs could save their lives.
And doctors should give high-risk patients prescriptions in advance, so they can fill them quickly if needed, CDC says. CDC adds high-risk patients should not wait for lab tests before receiving treatment.
"The very young and very old, and people with chronic medical conditions ought to be treated with antivirals [like Tamiflu and Relenza] when they have an influenza-like illness," CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat told reporters at the government's Tuesday swine flu briefing.
Most kids and adults will not need drugs; so far, they have recovered on their own. "They can be cared for with mom's chicken soup at home, lots of fluids and rest," Dr. Schuchat says.
She adds that, "virtually all the influenza circulating now in the United States is the 2009 H1N1 strain. It has not mutated and the vaccine is still a good match."
While CDC officials are trying not to hype the possible dangers of the virus, they are worried that people will develop resistance to Tamiflu and Relenza.
Kids' Warning Signs
In normal children, the warning signs for swine flu include: fever, fast or labored breathing, bluish or gray skin, and vomiting. If a child feels better but then relapses with a high fever, call the pediatrician immediately, experts say.
Even though the H1N1 flu is mild, some children will get sick and some of them will die, as happens with seasonal flu, experts warn. CDC says that at least 36 children in the U.S. have died of swine flu, while seasonal flu kills 50 to 100 children annually.
CDC recommends H1N1 vaccines for children and young adults ages 6 months to 24 years, pregnant women, health care workers and people caring for an infant younger than 6 months. (The agency advises against closing schools unless the virus becomes widespread.)
Companies Ready With Shots
Companies are racing against time to develop vaccines. Novartis has trumpeted the effectiveness of a single-dose swine flu shot. Officials had believed that two shots of the H1N1 vaccine would be necessary, so the one-shot vaccine is good news: it would stretch potentially tight supplies.
Australia's CSL is already producing vaccine and is making 1.0 million to 1.5 million doses per week until it meets demand. Meanwhile, Chinese firm Sinovac received the go-ahead from Chinese health authorities to produce a vaccine.
National Web site of Resources Planned
As the federal government develops a national strategy for the virus, the National Conference of State Legislatures has developed a website with updated facts on all aspects of the pandemic from the White House, CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and NIH. (http://www.ncsl.org/).