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Health Officials Encourage Caution, Despite H1N1 Case Decline

As the number of new H1N1 (swine flu) infections worldwide drops, U.S. health officials on Friday cautioned the virus continues to circulate and can still be deadly, Reuters reports. According to the WHO, H1N1 remains the dominant strain worldwide, but there are reports of the recent emergence of the seasonal flu in Africa and China, according to the news agency.  

“Many people believe the outbreak is over and I think it is too soon for us to have that complacency,” Anne Schuchat of the CDC said during a telephone briefing Friday, Reuters reports. “This pandemic isn’t over yet.” Schuchat encouraged Americans who have yet to receive the H1N1 vaccine to do so and parents to ensure children received two doses of the vaccine. So far, 70 million Americans have been vaccinated against H1N1, “which leaves the U.S. government with millions of unused doses,” the news service writes (Fox, 2/5).

“The World Health Organization is witnessing an international decline as well, and is discussing criteria for declaring the pandemic over,” the Associated Press/Washington Post reports. “One U.S. expert said the epidemic has ‘one foot in the grave,’ and there are many reasons to believe there won’t be another wave later in the year,” according to the news service (Stobbe, 2/5).

A poll by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health released Friday found 44 percent of Americans believed the H1N1 outbreak was over, the Boston Globe reports. Based on telephone interviews with 1,419 U.S. adults, the researchers found “[a]bout 40 percent of parents said their children had been vaccinated, while 13 percent said they intended to have their youngsters immunized against the H1N1 virus by the end of February. Only 21 percent of adults surveyed said they had gotten the swine flu shot or nasal vaccine, although 16 percent said they hope to be vaccinated by the end of this month,” according to the newspaper.

“People who chose not to get the vaccine for themselves or their children said their decision was influenced by a belief that the disease was not as serious as once thought, concerns about safety, or confidence that they wouldn’t catch the virus,” the newspaper adds (Cooney/Smith, 2/6).

As H1N1 cases worldwide continue to decline, BusinessWeek examines the lessons health authorities have learned from the H1N1 outbreak. The piece highlights how H1N1 exposed areas where the U.S. surveillance systems, vaccine production, mass vaccination campaigns were lacking (Weintraub/Gerlin/Doherty/Serfino, 2/4).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.