H1N1 flu cases decline, but still taking heavy toll


The current wave of pandemic H1N1 appears to have peaked, with four weeks of declines in several key indicators, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. Despite the decrease, the outbreak is continuing to take a heavy toll of hospitalizations and deaths, especially among children.

Widespread activity of H1N1, also called swine flu, was reported in 32 states -- including California -- in the week ending Nov. 21, down from 43 states the week before and 48 a month ago. Influenza-like illnesses accounted for 4.3% of all visits to doctors’ offices during the week, down from nearly double that proportion in October. That is still well above the normal level, 2.3%, for this time of year, however.

From Aug. 30 to Nov. 21, there were 29,348 laboratory-confirmed swine flu hospitalizations and 1,224 deaths in the United States, although those numbers are generally assumed to be very low. Two weeks ago the CDC estimated that at least 4,000 people have died from swine flu, 98,000 have been hospitalized and 22 million have contracted the virus. New figures are expected in a couple of weeks.

In the week that ended Nov. 21, there were 27 laboratory-confirmed swine flu deaths in infants and children younger than 18 and seven from influenza A that was not tested to see if it was H1N1; it was the largest toll in a single week since the pandemic began in April. That brings the total number of pediatric deaths from influenza to 234 since April. A normal flu season is typically marked by about 30 to 40 pediatric deaths.

The number of pediatric deaths apparently has not peaked yet, the CDC says, because death reporting often lags by three or four weeks. For example, one of the seasonal flu deaths included in this week’s report occurred in May.

As of Wednesday, there were 61 million doses of H1N1 vaccine available nationwide.