THURSDAY, Oct. 1, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- Twenty-eight pregnant women in the United States had died from H1N1 swine flu as of the end of August, and 100 pregnant women had been hospitalized in intensive care, federal health officials said Thursday.
While the officials said they've never tracked deaths of pregnant women from seasonal flu, the number of deaths from the H1N1 flu could be significant.
"These are really upsetting numbers," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said during an afternoon press conference.
"We have obstetricians here at CDC who are coordinating the outreach as well as the surveillance efforts around it," she said. "And they're talking to doctors around the country who have never seen this kind of thing before. We don't track seasonal flu. We haven't in the past tracked seasonal flu complications in pregnancy. But what we are seeing is quite striking."
Schuchat said it's not yet clear whether there is something different about the H1N1 flu's effect on pregnant women, or whether researchers are noticing its effect on pregnant women more because the virus is being monitored closely.
"But I think the obstetric caregivers here and the ones that we're speaking with have rarely seen this kind of thing in practice," she said.
Schuchat urged pregnant women to get both the seasonal flu vaccine and the H1N1 swine flu vaccine, which will be available starting next week. Seasonal flu vaccines are already available.
"We encourage caregivers to vaccinate pregnant women or refer them to a place where they can be vaccinated," she said.
She also stressed that women, doctors and nurse midwives should remember that "antiviral medicine [such as Tamiflu] can be a very important treatment for pregnant women who have respiratory illness and influenza-like symptoms."
Schuchat also addressed a CDC study released Wednesday that found that 33 percent of 77 deaths caused by the H1N1 flu resulted from bacterial pneumonia. The strain of bacteria in many cases -- streptococcus pneumonia -- is one for which there is a vaccine, she said, so adults should get the pneumococcal vaccine to prevent this complication. This holds true especially for people who have a chronic medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease, she said.
Schuchat added that the H1N1 swine flu is widespread throughout the country, which is unusual for this time of the year. "There is significant flu activity in virtually all the states," she said.
To help combat the H1N1 flu, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is releasing 300,000 doses of the children's antiviral drug liquid Tamiflu to the states that need it. States will begin receiving those doses next week, Schuchat said.
Some of these doses of liquid Tamiflu have an expired expiration date, Schuchat said. "But we want people to know that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended the expiration date of those courses after careful testing," she explained.
Schuchat also said the distribution of H1N1 vaccine is progressing, with the first doses of the nasal spray Flumist to be distributed next week. Flumist is for people aged 2 to 49, but not for pregnant women and people with chronic medical conditions, she said.
So far, the government has orders from distribution sites for 600,000 doses of the nasal spray vaccine, Schuchat said. "We are at the beginning and we will be getting more vaccine regularly and states and large cities will be ordering regularly," she said.
Some doses of the injectable vaccine may also be available late next week, Schuchat said.
Officials have said they expect 45 million doses of injectable vaccine to be ready by the end of October, and 190 million doses by year's end.
For more on H1N1 flu, visit the Flu.gov.