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H1N1 Remains a Worldwide Concern

Ben Cole, for HealthLeaders Media, September 29, 2009

The fight to prevent the spread of H1N1 is in full swing, as hospitals all over the world are reporting a surge in patients as the predicted second wave of the pandemic continues its spread during this flu season.

In its weekly update of H1N1 delivered on Sept. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that worldwide, there has been at least 318,925 laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 with more than 9,917 deaths. That marked a dramatic increase since September 13, when there was a reported 22,454 cases and 431 deaths. And the latest numbers could be largely skewed, as many countries focus surveillance and laboratory testing only on those with severe illness, the CDC reported.

Authorities are now scrambling to develop a vaccine. Also last week, the World Health Organization announced that regulatory authorities have licensed pandemic vaccines in Australia, China, and the United States, soon to be followed by Japan and several European countries.

"The length of the approval process depends on factors such as each country's regulatory pathway, the type of vaccine being licensed, and the state of manufacturer's readiness to submit appropriate information to regulatory authorities," according to a WHO announcement.

The WHO estimates that worldwide production capacity for pandemic vaccines at three billion per year—a figure that is lower than expected—but early data from clinical trials suggest a single dose, rather than two, will be sufficient to provide immunity in adults in older children.

However, "these supplies will still be inadequate to cover a world population of 6.8 billion people in which virtually everyone is susceptible to infection by a new and readily contagious virus," the WHO concludes in its briefing. "Global manufacturing capacity for influenza vaccines is limited, inadequate, and not readily augmented."

This could be troubling news for hospitals, which have been reporting a dramatic surge in patients in recent weeks due to H1N1, and the accompanying scare. On Sept. 23, parents and their sick children overflowed the emergency room at Children's Medical Center Dallas seeking tests and treatments for H1N1. In the two weeks prior, 60 children were sick enough with the flu to be admitted to the hospital, officials told the Dallas Morning News.

In addition, Mexico reported last week that daily diagnoses reached higher levels than the H1N1 peak in April, with 483 new cases reported in just one September day alone. Jose Angel Cordova, Mexico's Health Secretary, told the Associated Press that the country could see up to 5 million cases of swine flu this winter, and deaths could reach 2,000.

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