UPDATE 1-Flu in U.S. still widespread, but starting to ease, CDC says

Reuters5:40 p.m. CST, January 18, 2013

* CDC says 10 million more doses of vaccine available

* FDA to allow Roche to release reserve of Tamiflu

(Adds details from CDC)

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Flu remains widespread in the
United States and 29 children have died of complications from
it, but there are signs the epidemic is easing, U.S. health
officials said on Friday.

Forty-eight states reported widespread influenza infections
last week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention.

CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden described this year as a “worse
than average season, particularly for the elderly.”

“Many parts of the country are still seeing high – and in
some parts – increasing levels of activity while overall
activity is beginning to go down,” Frieden said in a
teleconference.

This year’s flu season has reached the midpoint, which means
new cases of flu are beginning to fall, but Frieden said he

expects both the number and rates of hospitalization and death
to rise further as the flu epidemic progresses.

Thousands of people die every year from flu, but the elderly
generally are the hardest hit, with 90 percent of all flu deaths
occurring in people over age 65.

The CDC does not keep track of all flu-related deaths in
adults, but during the second week of January, 8.3 percent of
deaths reported to its 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System
were due to pneumonia and influenza. That is up from 7.3 percent
reported the previous week and exceeds the epidemic threshold of
7.2 percent.

In the first two weeks of January, nine children died of
complications from the flu, bringing the death toll of children
from this year’s flu season to 29, the CDC reported.

That compares with a total of 34 child deaths for the entire
2011-2012 flu season, an especially mild one, and 282 during the
severe 2009-2010 season.

Last week, the percentage of visits to healthcare providers
for flu-like illness fell to 4.6 percent, down from a revised
4.8 percent in the prior week, the CDC said. By comparison, in

the 2009 H1N1 “swine” flu pandemic, 7.7 percent of visits were
for flu-like illness.

TAMIFLU IN SHORT SUPPLY

Despite continued reports of spot shortages, Frieden said it
is not too late to get vaccinated.

Flu vaccine makers had expected to produce 135 million doses
of vaccine, but they have been able to eek out an additional 10
million doses. So far, Frieden said, 129 million doses have been
made available for distribution to doctors’ offices, drug
stores, clinics and other facilities.

“That means there is more vaccine out there for suppliers to
order,” he said.

To avert shortages of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, made by
Roche Holding AG’s Genentech unit, Food and Drug
Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said her agency
has authorized the company to distribute 2 million doses of a 75
milligram capsule from its stockpile that contains an older
version of the package instructions.

“This medication is fully approved. It is not outdated,” she
said. “To assure people have access, we took the necessary steps

to allow Genentech to distribute its reserve without requiring
them to repackage it, which would have taken months,” Hamburg

said.

Last week, Roche said the liquid form of Tamiflu, which is
given to children who already have the flu to alleviate
symptoms, was in short supply.

At the time, Roche said it had warned wholesalers and
distributors that temporary delays in shipments were imminent.

Pharmacists can make a substitute by dissolving Tamiflu
capsules in a sweet liquid.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Vicki Allen and
Eric Beech)

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