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H1N1 Is Now Most Dominant Flu Strain Worldwide, WHO Says

The H1N1 (swine flu) virus is now the dominant flu strain worldwide, the WHO reported Thursday, with the virus accounting for up to 70 percent of the flu viruses sampled in some countries, the Associated Press reports. “We remain quite concerned about the patterns that we’re seeing,” Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s special adviser on pandemic influenza to the director-general, said during a press briefing. However, “[Fukuda] said the swine flu virus appeared to be fairly stable, and that samples from around the world remained very similar to when the virus was first identified in April,” the news service writes (Cheng, 11/5).

During the press conference, Fukuda spoke of a growing body of evidence from ongoing H1N1 vaccination campaigns in 20 countries that demonstrates the safety and effectiveness of the H1N1 vaccine, the Canadian Press reports. “We now have good evidence, based on many people receiving the vaccines, that we have no picture of unusual side-effects emerging,” Fukuda said. “And the side-effects which are expected – such as a painful injection or perhaps some swelling at the injection site – these are occurring at rates which are expected and usually seen with seasonal influenza vaccine. So the picture right now looks quite good in terms of the safety,” he added (Branswell, 11/5).

“[Fukuda] complained … that the agency has yet to receive most of the 200 million doses of vaccine that were to be donated by 11 countries,” according to the Los Angeles Times’ blog, “Booster Shots.” “Delays in production of the vaccine have led to shortages, and most countries, like the United States, have chosen to vaccinate their high-priority groups before making good on their pledges” (Maugh, 11/5).

Fukuda “warned the public not to treat the virus like just another flu,” pointing to the severe symptoms the virus causes in young people and H1N1’s ability to flourish in the summer months, CNN reports. He pointed to regions where H1N1 activity was on the rise, including Europe and Central and Western Asia (11/5).

“We anticipate seeing continued or increased activity during the winter period in the northern hemisphere,” Fukuda said, Reuters reports. “This also means that we expect to see continued reports of serious cases and deaths.” To date, at least 5,712 people worldwide have died from H1N1, according to the WHO (Nebehay, 11/5).

New York Times Examines Antiviral Peramivir

The New York Times examines the experimental antiviral, peramivir, which is delivered “intravenously, making it usable by hospitalized patients who are too ill to take two approved flu drugs that work against the virus in similar ways – Tamiflu by Roche, which is typically given as a pill, or Relenza from GlaxoSmithKline, which is inhaled.” The U.S. government on Thursday ordered 10,000 “treatment courses of peramivir” to be added to the national stockpile.

Though peramivir has yet to receive FDA approval, it recently “granted authority for the drug to be used in emergencies for patients hospitalized with H1N1 flu who cannot take or do not benefit from Tamiflu or Relenza,” the newspaper writes. “Of the 32 patients who received the drug that way, 29 were still alive, BioCryst said in late October,” according to the New York Times.

“Although there are still questions about peramivir’s true effectiveness, some critics say the government moved too slowly to make the drug available, and that even now, access is too restricted. For each patient, doctors must call an 800 number or fill out a form on a Web site run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The drug is then sent overnight from a central stockpile,” the newspaper writes.

“If you have a critically ill patient, to delay therapy, it’s just incomprehensible to me,” said Richard Whitley, the president of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, who encouraged the distribution of the drug so that hospitals could have it on hand (Pollack, 11/5).

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