June 30, 2005

U.S. flu season was moderate – CDC

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The 2004-2005 U.S. flu season was
moderate, but the virus killed at least 36 children, the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

On the same day, CDC vaccine advisers issued new
recommendations aimed at preventing healthcare workers from
spreading the virus, and a government investigator again
criticized the U.S. government's preparations for a major
influenza outbreak.

Influenza hits every year, killing about 36,000 Americans
and up to 500,000 people globally in an average season. These
numbers could rise to hundreds of thousands in the United
States alone and millions globally if a serious pandemic
occurred -- something most experts expect eventually.

This year, the CDC said, flu season peaked in February and
was at levels considered epidemic from Feb. 14 to April 9.

An average of 15 percent of all suspected influenza cases
reported to the CDC by hospitals actually turned out to be flu,
the agency said. The rest were either something else or

Health officials have tried to encourage annual vaccination
against flu, but their efforts fell apart during the last
season when Chiron Corp. lost its license to make vaccine and
had to destroy half the anticipated U.S. supply.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices
recommended on Thursday that hospitals and clinics require
every healthcare worker to get flu vaccinations or sign a form
saying they declined it.

About 36 percent of healthcare workers get flu shots, the
according to surveys, even though they are very likely to be
infected and can pass the virus onto vulnerable patients before
they show symptoms.

On Thursday, Congress heard criticism from a Government
Accountability Office expert, Marcia Crosse, who said the CDC
and the Department of Health and Human Services issued "mixed
messages" about who should get vaccinated.

Despite the shortage and long lines at the beginning of flu
season in October, vaccine makers including Sanofi-Aventis and
MedImmune threw out some doses in the end. The flu vaccine must
be reformulated every year to keep up with the rapidly changing

Crosse told the House Committee on Government Reform that
an influenza pandemic could strain the available capacity of

"Public health officials we spoke with said that a
large-scale outbreak, such as an influenza pandemic, could
strain the available capacity of hospitals by requiring entire
hospital sections, along with their staff, to be used as
isolation facilities," she said.