Swine Flu Deaths Take 90% of Toll Among Young People

Almost 90 percent of 292 deaths related to swine flu in the U.S. since Sept. 1 were in people younger than age 65, contrary to the pattern for seasonal flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

In a typical season, the majority of deaths are among people older than 80, Anne Schuchat, head of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Atlanta-based CDC, said today in a conference call.

Almost 5,000 people in 27 states covered by the report have been hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed H1N1 influenza since Sept. 1, and more than 53 percent are younger than 25, Schuchat said.

“This is a young person’s disease,” Schuchat said. The number of deaths among younger Americans “is really, really different from what happens with the seasonal flu. It is tragic for the family and hard for us in public health to see.”

The disease is now widespread in 41 states, and the mortality rate has surpassed the threshold for an epidemic, according to the agency.

H1N1 vaccine distribution is behind schedule, Schuchat said. There are 12.8 million doses available, compared with 9.8 million a week earlier, according to the CDC. States have ordered 10.8 million doses. Previous estimates from U.S. health officials called for as many as 50 million doses available for shipping before the end of the month.

“It probably feels like a slow start for everybody,” Schuchat said. “We’re not cutting any corners in the testing and safety of this vaccine.”

The first doses available are being given to health-care workers, children, pregnant women and people with chronic conditions that put them at risk for complications. More than half of the vaccine available is the injectable form. Most adults, including the elderly, should wait until additional supplies arrive, the CDC has said.

New York City public schools are sending home information packets and consent forms this week so students can get free vaccinations for swine flu, starting Oct. 28, said Zoe Tobin, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The city is on schedule to receive 1.2 million doses of the vaccine by the end of the month. It will get 2 million more doses in November and again in December, Tobin said. That supply will be divided among schools and health-care providers.

Elementary school students are supposed to get the first doses, Tobin said. There are 470,000 students in preschool through sixth grade in the city schools, according Marge Feinberg, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Education.

Middle and high school students, who will have to wait until November and December, will receive the vaccine on weekends at designated distribution centers in each of the city’s five boroughs, Feinberg said. There are 1.1 million students in the school system, she said.

“Last spring, in May and June, the swine flu numbers were huge,” said Melissa Stockwell, a pediatrician at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “This year there hasn’t been much so far. But kids are always at risk when it comes to any kind of flu, which is why we recommend getting both a swine flu and seasonal flu shot.”

Schuchat said more doses of seasonal flu vaccine are becoming available, with 82 million delivered and 114 million expected. The seasonal-flu period won’t kick in until December, she said.

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