No, contrary to popular thought, the H1N1 swine flu virus has not left the country. It is alive and well and is still circulating in the United States albeit in much lower numbers than we have seen since April 2009 and much lower than our usual seasonal flu this time of year. However, having said that, health officials have noted a troubling uptick in the number of cases in several southeastern states, particularly Georgia, in recent weeks. “We are continuing to see people with serious illness from H1N1 pandemic virus, especially in some of the southeastern states,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during an afternoon press conference. “Although disease rates are much lower on average around the country than last fall, H1N1 is still circulating and people continue to become ill and be hospitalized and to die from this virus.”
Georgia in particular has seen 40 hospitalizations last week alone, as well as increases during the past three weeks. “Georgia has seen more laboratory-confirmed influenza-related hospitalizations than at any time since October and the data suggest that the increase in hospitalizations is caused by H1N1, not by other seasonal influenza viruses,” she said.
Schuchat said she could not predict if other states would see a similar surge in H1N1 activity in the coming weeks, but she said she could not rule out a resurgence of the disease. “It’s too early to say we’re not going to see increases in other areas,” she said. “But we’re worried that we’ll see additional cases happening day in and day out in people who thought there was no more risk.”
Most of the recent hospitalizations have involved adults with chronic health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness. Ninety percent of the 12,000 deaths in the United States have occurred in individuals under the age of 65, about five times the death rate seen in this age group with the seasonal flu. Most of those hospitalized had not been vaccinated, Schuchat said.
CDC current statistics noted that over 60 million Americans have been infected with the H1N1 virus and 256,000 people have been hospitalized. There have been close to 12,000 deaths from the virus which, while notable, is still far less than the 36,000 usually reported from the seasonal flu each year.
There does continue to be good news…there’s no evidence that the H1N1 strain has mutated since it first appeared last spring. And, so far, this flu has spread easily but has not been as virulent as most seasonal flu viruses, she said. By contrast, seasonal flu activity this year has been virtually non-existent – it is as if it has disappeared from the planet…stay tuned!