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Flu Hits Australia; Obese Stricken; Stronger Vaccine Needed

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | July 15, 2009

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads research on infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health, is more sanguine than his counterparts at WHO.

"I can say with confidence that we will have a vaccine that we will be making a decision on in the fall," he said.

Dr. Fauci said no vaccine will be released to the public unless it is proven safe. Clinical trials could begin in August. Researchers will then decide how much medicine is needed, he said.

People Must Take Responsibility

Officials say there is only so much they can do, even with the best vaccine and antiviral medicines. They say people must take responsibility for their own health by washing their hands, coughing into their sleeves, and throwing away tissues after sneezing into them.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has stockpiled 50 million courses of a broad flu-fighting medication for Federal distribution and another 22 million courses to give to states.

"We want to make sure we're not promoting panic, but we are promoting vigilance and preparation," President Obama said.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said government agencies at every level are preparing a defense against the H1N1 flu as well as the seasonal flu.

The U.S. government has allocated $350 million to help the country prepare for the H1N1 flu virus as well as the seasonal flu. Disputing WHO's prediction that a vaccine could be delayed until year's end, U.S. officials say a vaccine for the H1N1 flu could be available by October before the flu season starts in the Northern Hemisphere.

Hospitals Taking Measures

When it first arrived on the scene, H1N1 was a big concern, because it was thought to have an airborne method of transmission, said Dr. Katie Passaretti, assistant professor of infectious diseases and hospital epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins, Bayview, in Baltimore. Johns Hopkins immediately began using N95 masks, which were thought to be able to prevent airborne transmission if the virus was in fact able to hang in the air.

"The epidemiology of the disease has since presented itself more and the
worry that there was airborne transmission involved has subsided," Dr. Passaretti told DOTmed News.

Stephen Streed, member of the board of the Association for Professionals
in Infection Control and system director of infection control at Lee Memorial Health System, Ft. Myers, FL, said that preventionists have a better understanding that H1N1 is very similar to the seasonal flu, in that it is spread by droplet contact from the respiratory tract, from hands and close contact. In order to prevent in-hospital transmission, Johns Hopkins and Lee Memorial emergency rooms screen all patients upon entry for signs of the flu, and then immediately mask and triage those patients. The same goes for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, said J. Renee Watson, infection control manager at the pediatric hospital. Infection preventionists at these hospitals say that they were able to mobilize quickly because they already had robust pandemic plans in place.