Severe flu spreads

It's still unknown how well the flu vaccine will protect people against the unpredicted A-Fujian-H3N2 strain.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | December 5, 2003

With the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predicting a particularly severe flu season, it's still unknown how well the flu vaccine will protect people against the unpredicted A-Fujian-H3N2 strain.

County and state officials across the country have stepped up influenza surveillance efforts, because the Fujian strain has a potentially hardy mutation.

At least six children in Colorado have died from the flu. Three children have died from the flu in Texas, and Oklahoma and New Mexico each reported one child had died from the flu.

Several other western states have reported unusually early and very virulent outbreaks of the vaccine-resistant Fujian strain.

The flu season typically stretches from October to May, peaking in December and January, but this year cases were reported in some Western states as early as September.

Texas was the first state this season where the flu was considered widespread, the CDC's most severe category. Nine other states - Washington, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Tennessee and Pennsylvania - have been classified as having widespread flu outbreaks.

The Children's Medical Center in Dallas has reported seeing more than 500 children with the flu since October. On Thursday, more than two dozen were in the intensive care unit.

More than 6,300 cases of the flu have been reported in Colorado, more than in the previous two years combined. North Dakota has tallied 292 flu cases, compared to just two this time last year.

According to the CDC, children are particularly vulnerable to the flu because their bodies have not been exposed to the virus that infects the throat, nose and lungs.

Experts vary in their opinions of how well this year's vaccine blend will work against the Fujian strain. Most health officials agreed that the new strain is similar enough to the A-Panama-H3N2 strain in the flu vaccine that the shot will at least lessen the symptoms and duration.

The early start to flu season is not necessarily an indicator of severity. In the past, early starts to flu seasons simply meant they ended earlier.

In a typical year 36,000 Americans die from the influenza virus. Flu experts expect a higher death toll this year.

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