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CDC, Surgeon General Report On Increased Number Of H1N1 Cases In Southeast U.S.

Although H1N1 (swine flu) “has waned across much of the United States, the southeast is reporting an increase in cases of the H1N1 virus, U.S. health officials said on Monday,” Reuters reports. During a conference call with reporters, Anne Schuchat of the CDC reported an uptick in the number of H1N1 cases reported in Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia (Allen, 3/29).  

A CDC team investigating the H1N1 outbreak earlier this month concluded nothing unusual about the H1N1 virus circulating in Georgia, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Researchers had previously hoped that the continued low activity of swine flu meant that a third wave was less likely than had previously been expected, but Schuchat called the new data from the Southeast a ‘worrisome trend. … The future is hard to predict because there is much we do not know. But we do know that the virus is still around,'” the Los Angeles Times writes (Maugh, 3/30).

Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, who also participated in the conference call, “reiterated a common theme heard from CDC and other health officials since the H1N1 flu virus emerged nearly a year ago: ‘Vaccination is the single best protection against H1N1,'” CNN reports. According to Benjamin, approximately 120 million doses of H1N1 vaccine are available (Falco, 3/29).

Additional Details Emerge About External Committee To Evaluate WHO Response To H1N1

In related news, several media outlets report on the plans for an independent committee to review the WHO’s response to H1N1.

On Monday, WHO chief Keiji “Fukuda said the independent review will parallel another review effort within the WHO that will examine pandemic response as part of a required evaluation of how the International Health Regulations (IHR) functioned during the outbreak,” CIDRAP News reports. “He said the H1N1 pandemic was the first major test of the IHR, which are an agreement outlining how governments should handle global health emergencies.”

Fukuda cautioned that the timing of the review did not signify the end of the pandemic, but rather it “comes one year into the pandemic, when health officials have accumulated a lot of experience with the response and the actions are still fresh in people’s memories,” the news service adds (Schnirring, 3/29).

Fukuda said that the role of disease severity in WHO’s assessment of an outbreak and the alert scale it uses will be among the “critical issues” examined, the Associated Press reports. “Fukuda acknowledged Monday that the choice of words [such as pandemic] may have to be reconsidered in the future, to avoid confusion and anger from people who believe WHO and others overplayed the threat the virus posed,” according to the news service.

“If we look back to the beginning of the pandemic there was a lot of discussion about what do you call these things,” Fukuda said. “These things affect how people perceive outbreaks and pandemics so I think it’s one of those issues that we have to think about,” he added (Jordans, 3/29).

According to Reuters, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan will report the preliminary findings of the independent committee review to the World Health Assembly this May with a final report in 2011, according to Fukuda (Lynn, 3/29). The WHO is also conducting a separate, internal evaluation of its handling of the outbreak, according to the AP (3/29).