The swine flu is causing an unprecedented amount of illness for this early in the fall, with the deaths of 11 more children reported in the past week. And less vaccine than expected will be ready by month's end, federal health officials said Friday.
Of the 86 children who have died since the new swine flu arose last spring, 43 deaths have been reported in September and early October alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. That's a startling number because in some past winters, the CDC has counted 40 or 50 child deaths for the entire flu season — and no one knows how long this swine flu outbreak will last.
"These are very sobering statistics," said the CDC's Dr. Anne Schuchat.
Also surprising, about half of the child deaths reported since Sept. 1 have been teenagers. Until now, much of the attention has focused on younger children.
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Overall, what CDC calls the 2009 H1N1 flu is causing widespread disease in 41 states, and about 6 percent of all doctor visits are for flu-like illnesses, levels not normally seen until much later in the fall.
There may be only 28 million to 30 million vaccine doses dispersed around the country by month's end, Schuchat said, short of the 40 million-plus the government had hoped. But more will continue to arrive weekly, and she urged patience as people await their turn.
As of Wednesday, states had ordered 8 million of the 11.4 million doses of swine flu vaccine the government has ready to ship.
Initial vaccine shipments were only of FluMist, the nasal spray version that can be used by only certain people — those ages 2 to 49 who aren't pregnant and have no chronic illnesses such as asthma. But swine flu shots now are shipping, too, accounting for a bit more than half of the vaccine available today, Schuchat said.