- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 31, 2010

U.S. doctors and health officials are urging unvaccinated Americans to get an H1N1 shot as the potentially deadly virus makes a late-season rally in the Southeast.

They say most of the roughly 75 people recently hospitalized in hard-hit Georgia were adults — a segment of the population not targeted last fall for vaccinations.

“It would be very silly not to get a shot if you haven’t already,” said Dr. Margaret Lewin, medical director for Florida-based Cinergy Health.

The H1N1 virus — also know as swine flu — emerged in April, then resurfaced in fall. Officials found children and young adults were especially susceptible to the virus and put them along with pregnant women and health-care workers on their priority list for vaccinations.

U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin on Monday also urged Americans to get a vaccine, especially those with such high-risk factors as cancer, diabetes or chronic lung disease.

She made the request during a press conference with Dr. Anne Schuchat, a flu expert at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Schuchat said most of the people in the recently confirmed cases in Georgia also had pre-existing conditions.

Roughly 86 million Americans have been vaccinated since October. The flu, declared a pandemic, has sickened about 60 million Americans, hospitalized 265,000 and killed about 12,000.

The number of cases has decline since November, and reports of flulike illness are at their lowest level since late 2008.

Alabama and South Carolina also have reported an increase in flu cases. In addition, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia have reported small pockets of outbreaks.

Dr. Lewin said a slightly different version of H1N1 likely will resurface next fall, but she was unsure about whether Americans will need to be revaccinated.

She also praised the federal government’s response this season. Though growing the culture took longer than expected, she said, officials correctly identified the high-risk populations and delivered a vaccine that had few problems, such as dangerous side effects.

“They did a spectacular job,” she said.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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