The flu virus H1N1 remains a persistent risk in the southeastern United States, according to a recent update from U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin and assistant Surgeon General Dr. Anne Schuchat.
In presentations to journalists, Benjamin said roughly 60 million Americans have been infected with H1N1. A total of 265,000 were hospitalized, and 12,000 people died from the virus.
“We’re at a critical moment in our national response to this virus, and we need to continue to urge Americans to get vaccinated, especially people at high risk from complications from H1N1,” Benjamin said. “We’re seeing higher rates of disease in adults who have chronic conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease, asthma, COPD, and other lung illnesses.”
The Surgeon General said the media should do more to get the message out to minority groups in the nation to get vaccinated, as minorities have not been participating in the vaccination programs at the level of other Americans. The government has shipped a total of 121 million doses of H1N1 vaccine across the nation.
“It’s important to remind minority groups to get the H1N1 vaccine, too, because we know that minorities experienced higher rates of these chronic diseases,” Benjamin said.
Georgia Rates Remain High
Schuchat said Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina are reporting regional activity of H1N1 – activity within geographic pockets – and local activity, a more isolated measure, is being reported in Puerto Rico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Hawaii, and New Mexico.
Schuchat said Georgia is suffering the worst, with more H1N1 hospitalizations than any other state in the nation during March.
“The situation in Georgia [is] where things appear to be different. For the past several weeks the Georgia Department of Community Health has reported an increase in flu-related hospitalization,” Schuchat said. “Recently, Georgia has seen more laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations each week than they’ve seen at any time since October.”
Schuchat claims it’s no coincidence Georgia ranks near the bottom of states in the percentage of its residents getting vaccinated.
‘Trivalent’ Vaccine on Way
Schuchat said rumors of safety concerns should not prevent people from receiving the vaccine.
“We have an excellent safety record for the H1N1 vaccine,” Schuchat said. “We do know that the virus is still around and the vaccine is very safe. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself or your loved ones from flu.”
Schuchat said the flu vaccine for next year will include protection against H1N1, influenza B, and influenza A.
“We think it’s important for people to get the trivalent vaccine next year,” Schuchat said.
Thomas Cheplick ([email protected]) writes from Cambridge, Massachusetts.