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Pandemic H1N1 influenza activity rising in the southeast

Digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph of virions from an H1N1 isolate.
Digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph of virions from an H1N1 isolate.
Photo: CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith, 2009

Pandemic H1N1 influenza continues to make headlines across the United States and around the world. For the majority of the nation, the level of influenza activity is low.  However, in the Southeastern United States, including the Tuscaloosa and West Alabama area, increasing flu activity is causing federal officials to become concerned about a third wave of H1N1 influenza, or swine flu.

In Georgia, hospitalizations for flu-like illness have been increasing since the beginning of February. Current numbers are now higher than they were in October of 2009 during the height of the second wave of pandemic H1N1 influenza.  Alabama and South Carolina are also reporting regional activity.  With the warmer weather, spring vacations and the travel that entails, spreading the virus among individuals in other regions of the nation is not difficult.  Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are urging individuals to continue getting vaccinated as a preventive measure.

To date, H1N1 pandemic influenza has infected approximately 60 million individuals in the United States, or roughly 20 percent of the population.  Of those infected, approximately 265,000 have required hospitalization with around 12,000 fatalities.  According to Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, this is only about one third of the fatalities seen in a typical influenza season.  However, seasonal influenza typically causes fatalities in the elderly.  With pandemic H1N1 influenza, fatalities are resulting in adults under the age of 65, especially those patients who are pregnant or may have other underlying health conditions.  Dr. Schuchat said that the death rate among adults under 65 is five times higher than what is typically seen with seasonal influenza.

Prevention is still the best option and vaccination is the best place to start.  Currently, there are at least 35 million doses of H1N1 vaccine available in the United States.  Dr. Schuchat and the United States Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, are urging everyone to get vaccinated, especially individuals with underlying health issues.  For additional information, and an opportunity to receive a vaccination call, or visit your local county health department.

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