November 26, 2009

CDC Concerned Over H1N1 Secondary Infections

On Wednesday U.S. health officials expressed concern over a trend towards increased incidence of bacterial infections in young adults who have contracted the swine flu.

Though serious bacterial infections are not uncommon for patients suffering from the flu, the particularly high rate at which it is affecting young people"”typically the most resilient group against such infections"”has given health experts a bit of an alarm. 

Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters that both patients and doctors need to be particularly vigilant in monitoring for such infections right now.

"We are seeing an increase of serious pneumococcal infections around the country," Schuchat explained in a telephone interview with the press.

"That is the serious type of pneumococcal disease where the bacteria invade the blood and other internal sites."

Known as "secondary infections," these bacterial invasions are frequently a key morbidity factor in patients who end up dying from the flu.

In Denver, Colorado last month, health officials recorded a total of 58 cases of serious Streptococcus pneumonia"”nearly three times the usual average for the month.  And perhaps even more concerning was the fact that nearly all the cases were detected in patients under the age of 60, representing a complete reversal of typical demographic patterns of infection.

"The findings in Denver probably reflect infections that are occurring in other parts of the country where surveillance hasn't been as invasive," commented Schuchat.

The good news, according to Schuchat, is that strep infections are easily recognizable and can usually be treated with a variety of antibiotics.

"Having a high fever and cough and then feeling miserable and then feeling better and then suddenly taking a turn for the worse"”that is a serious warning sign," she explained.

Pharmaceutical giant Merck currently produces a vaccine called Pneumovax that is aimed specifically at protecting adult patients against 23 different varieties of streptococcal bacteria.  Health experts suggest that adult smokers as well as those suffering from diabetes, asthma and other conditions can particularly benefit from the vaccine.

U.S. officials hope to see as many as 160 million high-risk Americans vaccinated before the season is over, yet in the rush to manufacture unprecedentedly large quantities of vaccines, drug companies have run into a number of problems with production, testing and packaging the treatments.  Schuchat noted on Wednesday that only 61.2 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine have been distributed or are near distribution thus far.

However, she also expressed confidence that the vaccine has proven safe despite earlier fears that it had been too hastily produced and pushed through FDA screening procedures.

"We don't see any problems at all.  So far, the vaccine data suggests that this is a safe vaccine," Schuchat said.

"We are expecting to see vaccination efforts really step up as we head into December."

Official estimates from the CDC show that some 22 million U.S. citizens have contracted the swine flu thus far this year, while health experts from the World Health Organization say that the pandemic appears to be spreading from the west to the east and has likely already peaked in Europe and the Americas.


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