Public Health

Georgia Cases Put Swine Flu Back On Radar

Most people may think the new flu strain that popped up about a year ago has gone away. Largely, it has. But it's still putting some Americans in the hospital.

Just like last spring, the nation's influenza hot spot —- well, call it a warm spot — is in the southeastern part of the country.

In the last week, swine flu has put more than 40 Georgians in the hospital. In fact, this is the third week in a row that Georgia has had more flu hospitalizations than any other state.

Most if not all of the hospital cases there are adults with underlying chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease or cancer.

"The vast majority were not vaccinated," says Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "It's occurring in people for whom there are indications for vaccination, but unfortunately they hadn't taken advantage of the vaccine."

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin says the nation still has plenty of swine flu vaccine. Some 124 million doses have been distributed, and about 84 million people have been vaccinated.

Add that to the 60 million Americans who are immune because they've already had the flu, and that makes about 144 million people who don't have to worry about getting the flu right now. But more than half the population is still vulnerable.

No state is seeing widespread flu activity right now, but Georgia and two other states, Alabama and South Carolina, report "regional" activity. Eight other states and Puerto Rico are seeing local outbreaks.

Schuchat says the CDC doesn't know why the H1N1 flu of 2009, as it's officially called, is concentrated in the Southeast. "It could be the Southeastern states were hit relatively early last spring," she says. By the time the pandemic flu vaccine became available, around early December, "the demand for it may not have been as high."

In other words, these states may be under-vaccinated. The CDC says it will have more data on vaccination rates soon.

Meanwhile, the agency is still beating the "Get Vaccinated" drum. Schuchat says she's not worrying about another big wave of swine flu. "I'm just worried," she says, "that additional cases will be happening day-in and day-out in people who thought there was no risk any more."

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