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Vaccine Shortage a Concern
in Fight Against H1N1 and Saudi officials worry that huge crowds of visitors
could spread the flu virus during the upcoming Hajj.
H1N1 flu continues to spread. Currently the virus is most active in the
northern half of the world. But experts say it has become the leading influenza
virus in all countries.
No one really knows how many people have gotten sick. H1N1, often called swine
flu, was first reported in Mexico in April. Countries are no longer required to
test and report individual cases. But close to half a million confirmed cases
were reported to the World Health Organization as of November first.
The W.H.O. offices for the Americas and the Western Pacific reported two out of
three of those cases. The agency says more than six thousand people worldwide have
died from H1N1.
W.H.O. special adviser Keiji Fukuda said last week that the virus has continued
to act in some ways like seasonal flu. Most people recover without any need for
interventions like antiviral drugs.
But in other ways H1N1 is different. It remained at unusually high levels in
several countries during their summer months. And, unlike seasonal flu, younger
people have suffered many of the serious cases and deaths from H1N1.
In the United States, cases of suspected influenza are at higher numbers than
usual this early in the flu season. Experts at the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention say hospital treatment for likely H1N1 is most common among
children up to four years old.
Health officials around the world are concerned about vaccine production.
Wealthy countries have promised to donate ten percent of their H1N1 vaccine to
poor countries. But there is a worldwide shortage.
The traditional way to make flu vaccine is to grow the virus in chicken eggs.
Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health says the shortage is an
issue of biology. He says the companies that make vaccines cannot really do
much when they have a virus that does not grow well.
In Saudi Arabia, officials are preparing for the Hajj, which starts this year
during the last week of November. The event normally brings about three million
Muslims from one hundred sixty countries to the holy city of Mecca.
Disease experts worry that H1N1 could spread easily in the crowds. The Saudis
have a campaign to vaccinate health workers. They are also urging countries to
vaccinate pilgrims making the trip. And they are advising against travel by
children, pregnant women and other groups at highest risk.