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Health officials caution about reports of drop in H1N1 activity

Category: Infectious Diseases

Last Friday, U.S. health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a decrease in H1N1 flu activity across the country.

According to a CDC spokesperson, a total of 43 states are currently experiencing widespread flu activity - down from 46 last week and 48 at the beginning of the month, CNN reports.

While the figures appear to represent favorable trends, Dr Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, has guarded her expectations.

Schuchat told the news source the prevalence of the flu "is still much greater than we would ever see at this time of year. Even though we saw a little bit of a decrease this week it is still higher than the peak activity in many years."

In fact, though the number of reported cases is down nationally, areas like Maine and Hawaii have experienced recent increases. The CDC also said 21 more deaths from the swine flu were reported in children last week, raising the pediatric death total to 171.

In the meantime, Schuchat reiterated the importance of washing hands and covering coughs to prevent the spread of the virus and recommended that Americans get vaccinated against the flu.

So far, states have been able to obtain 54.1 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine, which is "11 million doses more than we were at a week ago," Schuchat told the news source.

Currently, FDA-approved swine flu vaccines include products manufactured by CSL Limited, MedImmune, Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics Limited.

Anti-vaccination campaign 'scientifically unfounded'

Although the dangers and pervasiveness of H1N1 have been well-publicized, the vast majority of Americans and Europeans have not been inoculated with approved vaccines.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released last week indicates that 55 percent of Americans adults do not wish to receive the swine flu vaccine and only 7 percent have actually been inoculated.

In France, a total of 79 percent of individuals said they would not be vaccinated, and about half of adults in Great Britain are avoiding the shot, the Associated Press reports.

These statistics led a prominent health association to criticize the "anti-vaccination movement" for putting public health and lives at risk through its suspicion about the swine flu vaccine.

Giuseppe Cornaglia, former president of the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Disease (ESCMID), told the news source, "Failure of the vaccine campaign would entail wider spread of the pandemic, an increased possibility of adverse complications and increased possibility of the virus mutating into a more aggressive and/or drug-resistant form."

He added that the criticisms circulating that allege the vaccine is either unsafe or unnecessary "are scientifically unfounded."

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that widespread activity of the swine flu strain is currently experienced by 10 countries.

Swine flu testing may be new preventative measure

Strides by researchers may make it possible for physicians to quickly and accurately diagnose H1N1 using lab tests as the virus continues to spread.

In a study published in the December issue of the American Journal of Roentgenology, scientists found that computed tomography (CT) scans can effectively measure the distribution and severity of swine flu in affected patients, HealthDay News reports.

As with testing for autoimmune diseases, cancers or STDs, flu testing can help doctors make early and effective diagnoses to frustrate the spread or severity of the disease.

"All patients with CT abnormalities showed abnormal findings on the corresponding chest X-rays," the study author Dr Amr M. Ajlan said. "However, the extent of involvement was more diffuse and the distribution of disease was better characterized on CT."

According to the WHO, more than 5,700 deaths have been attributed to swine flu worldwide since the virus was first identified in April.

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