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Flu at "Widespread' Level"; More Vaccine Allotted

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Flu activity in Missouri and Kansas was reported Thursday to beat a widespread level for the first time in four years.

Meanwhile, federal officials announced that more than 100,000 doses of additional flu vaccine were being shipped to state health departments and would be distributed next week based on population.

From the additional supply, Kansas expects to receive approximately 1,000 doses, while Missouri health officials anticipate receiving 1,800 doses.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that the flu outbreak had reached widespread activity in 24 states, including Missouri.

Kansas was not on the CDC's list. However, in a separate news conference Thursday in Topeka, state health officials announced Kansas was also at a widespread activity level as of this week.

In a teleconference with the news media, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said the department had purchased 100,000 doses of the adult flu vaccine from Aventis Pasteur to distribute among states. The department purchased another 150,000 doses of the children's vaccine and is arranging shipment for early January, he said.

Kansas state epidemiologist Gianfranco Pezzino said state officials were recommending that doctors apply their dwindling supplies of vaccine to those with the highest risk of severe complications.

"While the fact that so many of our citizens have received the flu vaccine this year is very positive, we want to make sure that those who need the vaccine the most can still find it," he said. "It is not too late to be vaccinated."

Health officials are still working out details of how the vaccine will be distributed.

"If you want to distribute something quickly across the country, you want to base it on population, because if you wait on other data it could take weeks," said Gail Hansen, Kansas deputy state epidemiologist. "We will then try to distribute them (doses) to where we need them most in the state."

Since the amount of additional vaccine is comparatively small when divided among the 50 states, it will be difficult to have much impact, officials said.

"We wanted to get as much as we could, and 1,000 doses is still more than we had before, but there is still going to be people who don't get it," Hansen said.

Sue Denny, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said it would be a while before the additional vaccine is divided among local health departments.

"We are going to have to figure out how best to distribute it across the state," she said. "This is going take a lot of thought in not a lot of time."

Meanwhile, both states' health departments are acting as clearinghouses to redistribute excess vaccine in doctors' offices to areas where it is needed.

The CDC is recommending that vaccine providers give priority to those in high-risk groups, mainly those over the age of 65, children between the ages of six and 23 months, pregnant women in their second or third trimester and those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or weakened immune systems.

For most healthy adults, flu is "an annoyance we can recover from," said CDC director Julie Gerberding during the teleconference.

"We have 185 million people in the high-risk category, and we have not nearly come close to vaccinating all of them," she said.

Gerberding said healthy children and adults also have the option of using FluMist, the nasal vaccine which contains a live, but weakened, flu virus.

"They started out with four to five million doses of that, and it should be generally available," she said.


(c) 2003, The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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