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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Flu Outbreak

Aired December 11, 2003 - 14:12   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go live now to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, the head of that agency, Julie Gerberding, speaking to reporters.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DR. JULIE GERBERDING, DIR., CDC: ... for taking time to sit if on the press briefing, and also for his leadership in this influenza situation as he's been doing with so many of the outbreaks and difficult public health circumstances over the last several months. Every time we've asked him to step up to the plate and help us out, he's been there with his leadership, and so he's here today, and he has an announcement to make.

Secretary Thompson, can you hear us?

SECY. TOMMY THOMPSON, HHS SECY.: Yes, I can, Julie.

Thank you so much for your leadership. You're doing an outstanding job, as everybody knows, at CDC. I mentioned you today at the cabinet meeting with the president, how great our trip was in Africa, and how well we did up with the CDC experimental program in Toronto (ph). And the president was very moved when I told him about our stories.

But I want to thank all the press today for being on this teleconference, and some of you were present in Atlanta. But more than that, I want to thank all of you for informing the public about the vaccine. So I appreciate very much your interest in this issue.

As we all know, there's been a greatly increased interest in the flu this year. We hope that translate into more people, especially those at high risk, getting their flu shots early in future years. We certainly will encourage that, and will want to work with manufacturers to be ready for it.

I hope that more people come to understand that flu is a very serious disease, not just this year, but each and every year. We've been conveying this message for many years, and it's important for people to understand it. And getting our message out about the importance of getting a flu vaccine, the media plays a very important role, and we thank you for that, and we appreciate your efforts in all of these regards.

As you all know, HHS and CDC have been aggressively looking at all of our options as to possibly acquiring additional supply of the flu vaccine, due to the high demand here in the United States. You also know that CDC has been surveying the states to find out how much vaccine is out there and where it's located. The CDC has today released recommendations on how vaccine should be used, based on what has been learned to date about the supplies.

Some areas of some states have an extra amount, others are very scarce. We want to make sure that it's redistributed wherever we possibly can.

But right now, I'd like to let you know what steps we have taken today. The department has just completed the purchase of 100,000 -- I want to underscore that -- that's 100,000 doses of adult vaccine from Aventis Pasteur. It's being shipped to health departments now, is expected to arrive in the states by the end of this week. Each state's supply will be based on the population.

We've also purchased from Aventis Pasteur an additional 150,000 doses of pediatric vaccine, and expect to have it ready for shipment by January of next year.

We also will continue to look for other vaccines wherever possible. We're exploring all options for possibly purchasing, as you can well imagine, additional supplies. As we move along, we will keep you apprised of our actions, let you know of our individual purchases, so you will be able to report it.

Again, we appreciate your interest in this issue. I'd now like to return the call back to Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC -- Julie.

GERBERDING: Thank you Secretary Thompson.

First, I'm going to give a brief update on the situation of the epidemic this year. The details are reported in today's morbidity, mortality weekly report, and there's a great deal of information in there that you might find useful as a reference.

I think the bottom line is spelled out in this graphic, which shows that we're now showing widespread influenza activity in 24 states. All jurisdictions are reporting flu, and it's clear the epidemic has not peaked this year, although there's early information suggesting that, possibly, things may be leveling off in some of the states that were hardest-hit. It's just too soon to say for sure whether or not that indeed is the case.

We know that the predominant virus this year is H3N2 strain; 75 percent of those are the Fujian strain, which is the strain that is not in the vaccine, but again, we're hopeful the vaccine will provide protection for this strain, given the laboratory evidence that we have in past experience when we've had slight mismatches between vaccine and circulating influenza strains of this type.

We don't have scientific evidence or epidemiological evidence to suggest that this year's influenza outbreak is worst than in the past, or that the strain is more virulent than strains that we've dealt with before. It's just simply to early in the course of the outbreak to say for sure how this will compare overall. But obviously, the early start and widespread activity has given us a great deal of concern, and obviously, it's concerned a lot of people, and that's why there's been such an interest in getting the vaccination this year.

Secretary Thomson gave us the good news that we have been able to secure the doses of both adult and pediatric vaccine. The pediatric vaccine won't be available to us until January, but it's very important that we do have those extra doses available to us.

We are working with the states to distribute the vaccine based on population in the states. And then at the state level, decisions about who should receive these extra doses will be based on what is the overall availability and need in that particular jurisdiction.

We're prioritizing use of vaccine in those who are over age 65, children between ages six months and 23 months, anyone with a chronic medical condition and women who are in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.

In areas that have vaccine sufficient to meet those needs, we are also encouraging vaccination of contacts of high-risk individuals. And that would include household as well as health care contacts, so that there is an additional layer of protection around individuals who could develop the most severe complications of flu.

We wish we had more vaccine, but there are many steps that we can take besides vaccination that will be able to have an impact on the scope and magnitude of the problem. There are some very specific steps that we can all take this year.

One of those is to be sure that we stay home when we're sick, because this will help reduce transmission of any respiratory illness that we might have to others. So fever and a flu-like illnesses is an indication to stay home from day care, from school or from any other situation where close contact with other susceptible individuals would occur.

In addition, it's important to remember that for healthy people, for the vast majority of us, influenza is an annoying illness. It's certainly not fun, but it's something that we will recover from with common sense self care. It's not necessary to go to the emergency room or to visit a physician simply because you have flu. The treatment is the good old-fashioned rest, fluids, and the over-the- counter medications that we typically use to treat symptoms.

Just one reminder not to use aspirin in children, because aspirin is associated with -- conditions that can complicate influenza, and we don't want to do anything to precipitate that. So a fever needs to be treated to use alternatives to aspirin in children.

We also have some specific advice for people who are in high-risk groups for influenza complications. First and foremost, they should see their provider or contact their provider to see whether or not they can access flu vaccine in the community. And the providers are working with the local health agencies to try to determine where and when they can get vaccine and how to refer people the resource where it's available.

If influenza vaccination is not available or if the individual develops symptoms of fever, influenza-like symptoms, they should see the clinician early in the course of that illness because it's possible that treatment for influenza or other conditions that could complicate influenza may be indicated.

And there are antiviral drugs that are effective in reducing the duration of influenza illness in healthy people. They be of benefit to people with chronic medical conditions people who are in the older or youngest age groups. And it's important to seek medical attention to ascertain whether or not treatment...

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC here in Atlanta, Georgia briefing reporters. As you know, the number of states severely hit by the flu has more than doubled since last week.

A look at the map now, the CDC and prevention -- or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting now that the outbreak is so widespread. It's in 24 states, as you can see here, which means at least half of each state reports cases. Cases have been reported, however, in all 50 states, though confirmed via lab tests in only 47.

Now last week only 13 states were at the widespread level. Now we're talking 24. We'll continue, of course, to follow what's taking place out of the CDC and where the flu is spreading.

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