Is the U.S. swine flu epidemic at its end?

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: February 6, 2010
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ATLANTA — If the U.S. swine flu epidemic isn’t over, it certainly looks as if it’s on its last legs.

While federal health officials are not ready to declare the threat has passed and the outbreak has run its course, they did report Friday that for the fourth week in a row, no states had widespread flu activity. U.S. cases have been declining since late October.

One U.S. expert said the epidemic has "one foot in the grave,” and there are many reasons to believe there won’t be another wave later in the year.

For one thing, the virus has shown no signs of mutating. The vaccine against it is effective. And roughly half the people in the U.S. probably have some immunity because they were infected with it or got vaccinated.

The World Health Organization is witnessing an international decline as well, and is discussing criteria for declaring the pandemic over. Britain this week shut down its swine flu hot line, which was set up to diagnose cases and give out Tamiflu.

"Clearly, the last four weeks have been one of the quietest January flu seasons I can remember in my career,” said Michael Osterholm, a prominent expert on global flu outbreaks with the University of Minnesota.

Since its emergence last April, swine flu has caused an estimated 15,200 deaths worldwide, mostly in the U.S. — a much lower number than initially feared. The positive outcome is primarily because the virus didn’t mutate into a deadlier form.

Even so, experts have praised the actions of the U.S. and Mexican governments and scientists who quickly developed an effective vaccine.

Criticizing the government for its intense response would be like chastising officials for building dikes in New Orleans to withstand a Category 5 hurricane and then seeing only a Category 3 come ashore, Osterholm said.


ALSO ...
Vaccine now in surplus

LOS ANGELES — The H1N1 flu vaccine shortage has become a surplus. Out of nearly 120 million vaccines distributed nationwide, only about 70 million have been used, federal officials said. Another 35 million doses have been produced but not shipped and instead may be donated overseas. A vaccine that just months ago was so scarce that people camped out at free clinics for the chance to get it, is now the subject of a different scramble: What should happen to the unused doses? Some providers report confusion about what to do and frustration with a distribution system that has made it difficult to know whether their unused doses, some of which are about to expire, are needed by another doctor to vaccinate patients. But many doctors report that demand is simply no longer there, in some cases leaving them with thousands of doses of the once-hot vaccine.

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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