- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Colorado officials said yesterday that nine children have died of influenza statewide this season, and two other pediatric deaths are under investigation for possibly being flu-related.

The victims were between the ages of 14 months and 15 years, said Cindy Parmenter, spokeswoman for the Colorado Health Department. Five were under the age of 3, as were the two under investigation.

Last year, only two child flu deaths were reported in Colorado. None was reported the previous year.

Influenza also has been blamed for deaths of children in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. It’s also suspected in the deaths of two children in South Carolina and the death of a 20-month-old girl with asthma from Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta are trying to determine whether the strain of flu causing the most illnesses this year — the A/Fujian strain — is particularly hard on children.

“That’s something we’re evaluating very carefully to determine whether there’s anything about this particular flu strain that’s preferentially affecting children or causing more severe disease in children,” CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told reporters at a briefing Tuesday.

The CDC recommends flu vaccinations for children between the ages of 6 months and 23 months. Miss Parmenter said some of the children who died in Colorado had received flu vaccinations.

Nationwide, more people than usual were vaccinated against the flu this year because of the warning of a potentially deadly season. This has caused vaccine shortages.

But there is uncertainty about how much protection the vaccine offers because the A/Fujian strain emerged on the scene too late for inclusion in this year’s product.

What’s more, researchers had trouble growing the A/Fujian flu strain in eggs.

“The manufactured virus comes from egg cultures … it couldn’t be produced in time to make it into the vaccine that we’re distributing right now,” Dr. Gerberding said.

The vaccine does protect against the A/Panama strain of influenza, which is considered a close relative of A/Fujian.

In an interview yesterday, a spokeswoman for Chiron, one of the two firms that made the flu vaccine used in this country, said she was “not qualified” to assess the protection level of the vaccine for this flu season.

Colorado is one of 13 states with widespread flu activity, the highest designation given by the CDC. The others are Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

To ease the current flu vaccine shortage in some areas of the United States, federal health officials are contemplating buying 400,000 doses of vaccine that Chiron has available in the United Kingdom.

“That product is licensed in the United States, but it’s not cleared for use because it hasn’t gone through all the stages of approval. So, we’re working with the FDA and the company to see whether or not it would be safe to get that vaccine into the United States in time to have any impact on this year’s flu season,” Dr. Gerberding said.

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