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Federal health officials are asking states to report all influenza deaths and cases among children this flu season --- and will consider making serious influenza one of the diseases that doctors are required to report.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 42 children are known to have died from flu in recent weeks --- 60 percent of them with no underlying health conditions, which surprises health officials. But it's impossible to say for certain whether the deaths are unusual because doctors don't have to report cases of flu. That is because the disease is so common, other bugs have similar symptoms, and flu tests are new and often not used, the CDC said.
Amid this season's flu outbreak --- now considered widespread in 36 states, including Georgia --- the reporting issue is significant because health officials don't have specific figures from previous years to put the current outbreak into context, especially concerning children.
The CDC uses other indicators, such as lab tests and visits to doctors for flulike symptoms, to measure the extent of the disease. But it could be feasible to make doctors report all serious cases of flu, CDC Director Julie Gerberding said. The CDC is asking state health officials to draft such a proposal, she said.
Of the 42 childhood deaths this year, just over half were in children age 5 or younger. The CDC said it didn't have enough information to report how many of the children had been vaccinated, though Gerberding said several hadn't been.
In Georgia, a 5-year-old girl from Sandy Springs died from influenza Monday. It's not clear whether her death is included in the CDC's total of 42 deaths. Georgia health officials are checking to see whether three other recent childhood deaths may have been from flu.
Meanwhile, the CDC released "guidelines for self-triage" to remind people when to seek medical attention and when to stay home.
People with flu should see a doctor if they have trouble breathing, a sustained high temperature for more than four days, altered mental status, bluish skin or an inability to take in fluids.
"In the absence of those signs, flu is something that for the vast majority of people can be managed at home," Gerberding said.
The CDC has dispatched field teams of epidemiologists around the country to assess how much this year's vaccine is protecting people against the flu, especially children and health care workers, Gerberding said. None of the three strains in the vaccine perfectly matches the strain now circulating widely because it surfaced too late.
But one of the three strains is closely related to the new one, so the shots should afford some protection.
The state of Georgia has turned to a private vendor for 100,000 doses of flu vaccine --- one-sixth of what the federal government has been able to scrounge for all the states, according to The Associated Press.
Under the $1.65 million deal with Carters Trading of Springdale, Ark., Georgia will pay $16.50 a dose, more than double what the vaccine would have cost before the season started, AP reported.
Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution