SATURDAY, Oct. 17, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Eleven more U.S. children died from H1N1 swine flu during the past week, a federal health official said Friday, adding that the disease is now so widespread it has surpassed epidemic proportions.
Adding to the seriousness of the situation, manufacturing problems have delayed production of the H1N1 vaccine. Instead of reaching a goal of 40 million doses by the end of October, fewer than 30 million doses will be available, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during an afternoon press conference.
"The delays the manufacturers have will have a substantial impact for the states in their planning efforts. We are seeing more and more vaccine become available -- we wish it were more than it is, but at least we have some," she said.
Schuchat said 86 children have died from the H1N1 swine flu since the virus emerged last spring, with 43 of those deaths coming in September and early October alone. That underscores the concern that swine flu is particularly dangerous for children and young adults who may not have immunity to the disease. During the past three years, deaths among children from the regular seasonal flu ranged from 46 to 88 annually.
"These are very sobering statistics," she said.
What's also surprising, Schuchat said, is that about half of the children who have died since the end of August were teenagers. Health officials thought younger children were more vulnerable.
The swine flu is widespread in 41 states, up from 37 states last week, Schuchat said, and "illness, hospitalizations and deaths continue to increase."
Despite the delays in vaccine production, more doses are expected weekly, Schuchat said. "We are all going to have to bear with the situation. We wish we had better ways to produce the vaccine perfectly."
Currently, 11.4 million doses of the vaccine are available, and 8 million of those doses have been ordered by the states, Schuchat said. Ultimately, the government hopes to dispense 190 million doses by the end of the year, federal officials have said.
The first doses of swine flu vaccine, which became available earlier this month, were in the form of a nasal spray called FluMist, which is for people 2 to 49 years old who are not pregnant and do not have chronic medical conditions. Now, slightly more than half of the vaccine doses are in injectable form, which makes the vaccine available to more people, Schuchat said.
In addition to children, those who should be near the front of the line for a swine flu shot include pregnant women, people who care for young children, health-care workers, and people with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
Schuchat also urged people to get vaccinated for the regular seasonal flu. Eighty-two million doses of the seasonal flu vaccine have been distributed, with a total goal of 114 million doses. "So 71 percent of the doses that are going to be produced have already been distributed," she said.
Schuchat added that it's not too late to get a seasonal flu shot since the seasonal flu season has not yet started, and the H1N1 flu continues to be the dominant strain in circulation.
On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to use caution when buying products over the Internet that claim to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure the H1N1 flu. Often, these products aren't what they claim to be or are illegal to sell in the United States.
For example, the agency found that pills from India that claimed to be the antiviral drug Tamiflu actually contained talc and acetaminophen, but no Tamiflu.
"Products that are offered for sale online with claims to diagnose, prevent, mitigate, treat or cure the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus must be carefully evaluated," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said in a prepared statement. "Medicines purchased from Web sites operating outside the law put consumers at increased risk due to a higher potential that the products will be counterfeit, impure, contaminated, or have too little or too much of the active ingredient."
On Friday, a judge in New York state halted mandatory flu vaccinations for health-care workers. New York is the only state to require health-care workers to be vaccinated against the seasonal and swine flu. The restraining order came in response to a lawsuit filed by three nurses who said mandatory vaccinations violated their civil rights, The New York Times reported.
Also Friday, Minnesota agricultural officials said preliminary tests showed that three pigs in the state may have contracted the swine flu virus, making them the first potential U.S. cases in swine.
The officials stressed the finding does not threaten food safety.
The samples were taken from pigs shown at the Minnesota State Fair between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1 as part of a university research project. The officials said they expect results next week to confirm whether the pigs were infected with the H1N1 swine flu virus, the Associated Press reported.
The pigs did not show signs of sickness and officials said they likely contracted the virus from some of the nearly 1.8 million people who visited the fair, the news services said.
The chances of a pig infecting a person with swine flu is considered remote. But, the animals can act as "mixing vessels" if they catch two different strains of the disease at the same time, potentially giving rise to a mutated version of the flu. Officials said there's no evidence that has happened, the AP said.
For more on H1N1 swine flu, visit Flu.gov.