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Press Briefing Transcript

Flu Update with Dr. Carolyn Bridges

December 7, 2001

CDC OPERATOR: Hi. Good afternoon. Today our speaker for the CDC update on influenza activity in the United States is Dr. Carolyn Bridges. Dr. Carolyn Bridges will give a brief overview and then we will, as John said, open it up to Q and A.

R. BRIDGES: Good afternoon. This is Dr. Carolyn Bridges. As you know, we had an MMWR published just yesterday describing the influenza season in the U.S. thus far. In general, what we are seeing around the country are sporadic cases of influenza. There have been two small isolated outbreaks, one in a school setting and one in a nursing home setting that have been reported to CDC thus far.

Of the influenza viruses that have been characterized at CDC, those have been well matched to the virus strains included in this year's vaccine. As you all know, the best prevention against influenza is the vaccine. The vaccine is particularly recommended for people who are at increased risk from complications from influenza. Those groups include people 65 and older, and people less than 65 years of age who have chronic medical conditions such as heart and lung disease and diabetes.

In addition, we recommend vaccination of people in contact with high risk people, particularly health care workers who may have contact with multiple high risk people on a given day, as well as household contacts of high risk persons.

Although the optimal months to vaccinate are October and November, vaccination is strongly encouraged to continue in December, January and beyond, as long as influenza vaccine is available.

Although there was some delay in the availability of influence vaccine early on in the season, there is vaccine now available from all three of the U.S. vaccine manufacturers.

I think I will stop there and take questions.

AT&T MODERATOR: And, ladies and gentlemen, once again, if you do have a question at this time, please press the one on your touchtone phone. You will hear a tone indicating you have been placed in queue. Once again, if you have a question, please press the one.

First question is from A.G. Hostetler with The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi, Dr. Bridges. Thanks for having the telebriefing today. My question, apparently last year we actually--rather, this year we actually have from a report the number of the tested specimens and the percentage [inaudible] flu-like illness. Neither of those are up and, in fact, I think they're both a little lower than last year, which I personally found surprising, given the concern people had about any sort of respiratory ailment in the last couple months. Were you surprised, and what do you make of that?

DR. BRIDGES: These are levels that are fairly typical for this time of year, so, no, we weren't surprised. Influenza season can vary quite a bit, in that we may see peak flu activity anywhere from December through March. So at this time of year, I think sporadic cases is normal. There is, as you say, increased concern about respiratory illness because of the anthrax concerns, but those have not, it looks like, translated into a higher proportion of people with flu-like illness presenting to physicians and outpatient clinics. Again, we are very, very early in the flu season.

QUESTION: Well, were you surprised that more people haven't shown up complaining about the ailment, about flu-like ailments?

DR. BRIDGES: Well, as I said, it's early on, so there's not a lot of flu around at this time. I think really we will have to just follow the rest of the flu season and see how our surveillance system compares with last year.

AT&T MODERATOR: Our next question is from Ellen Beck with The United Press International. Please go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you very much. You mentioned in here that the remaining dosages of the vaccine will be made available through December. How do you characterize the manufacturing process for this season? You said it was a little bit late, but did they have trouble like they did the year before in growing the vaccine cultures, virus cultures, or was it a better production season this year than last, despite the fact that they were still late?

DR. BRIDGES: Apparently it was a better production than what we had last year. Compared with last year, by the end of October, only 26 million doses had been distributed compared to about almost 47 million doses this year. So there was a lot more vaccine available earlier this year than last.

One of the things that has occurred this year is we have three manufacturers compared to last year and the previous year, where we had four manufacturers. So we have fewer number of manufacturers making vaccine, and so that has contributed in part to the delay. But there has not been a difficulty in growing the vaccine viruses that we saw last year.

AT&T MODERATOR: Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you do have a question, please press the one at this time.

And, Ms. Hoskins, no further questions in queue.

CDC OPERATOR: Okay. That concludes our telebriefing, and we thank all of you.

AT&T MODERATOR: And, ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude your conference for today. We do thank you for your participation, and you may now disconnect.


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