According to information released this week from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the swine flu epidemic is here. The agency reports that as of Sept. 26, 27 states, including Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming, are reporting "widespread" influenza activity. The CDC added that any reports of widespread influenza activity in September are very unusual. 
The CDC reports that total hospital rates for the confirmed cases of the flu are higher than expected for this time of year for adults and children. For children 5-17 and adults 18-49 years of age, hospitalization rates from April–September 2009 exceed average flu season rates (for October through April). The CDC data also confirmed that 60 pediatric deaths related to 2009 H1N1 flu have been reported to CDC since April 2009, including 11 deaths reported in the past week.

It's safe to say that the predicted swine flu outbreak is here and health experts don't yet know if this is the beginning, the peak, or the end of the epidemic. So with the release of the swine flu vaccine this week, it's time to decide where you stand on the issue.

According to an article a recent Consumer Reports survey, many Americans are worried about swine flu, but even more worried about the vaccine. Issues such as the vaccines actual effectiveness, its effect on children with asthma, and the use of miniscule amounts of mercury as a preservative are feeding the reluctance by as many two-thirds of all US moms and dads to give their children the shot.

The CDC hopes to debunk the myths and fears surrounding the swine flu vaccine -- and do it quickly. CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden recently addressed concerns about the swine flu vaccine, particularly rejecting suggestions that the new vaccine is untested. According to Frieden, the vaccine's seed strain was created, grown and purified in the same slow way as seasonal flu shots. While he conceded that initial cases of swine flu have been reported faster than the vaccine could be ready, he argued that vaccination is not too late. CDC epidemiologists believe that only 5 percent to 10 percent of the population has already been infected with swine flu.

“That leaves 90 to 95 percent of the population still susceptible,” said Frieden. “It’s too soon to say it’s too late. We don’t know what the rest of the season will bring.”

Still, the resistance to the swine flu vaccine is so strong that many areas report families conducting "flu parties" where parents expose themselves and their children to the flu in an effort to strengthen their immune systems as a sort of natural vaccination. Health experts are hoping that increased transparency about the swine flu vaccine and it's side effects (such as their weekly FluView situation reports) will alleviate concerns quickly and help people become more comfortable with the idea of vaccination.

It's time to decide. Will you and your family get the swine flu vaccine?

Photo: AJC1

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