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Most amazing to longtime flu researchers, this new H1N1 strain seems to account for about 70 percent of all flu now circulating in the world. In Australia, eight of every 10 people who tested positive for flu had the pandemic strain.
That begs the question: Do people still need to bother with regular flu vaccine?
Definitely, stressed CDC's Schuchat, who plans to get both kinds. There's still enough regular flu circulating to endanger people, especially the 65-and-older generation.
Notably, South Africa is having a one-two punch of a flu season, hit first with a seasonal strain known as H3N2 and now seeing swine flu move in.
Wash your hands, sneeze into your elbow, stay home so you don't spread illness when you're sick. That's the mantra until vaccine arrives.
This week brings a key milestone. Hundreds of U.S. adults who rolled up their sleeves for a first shot in studies of the swine flu vaccine return for a blood test to see if they seem protected. It will take government scientists a few weeks to analyze results, but the volunteers get a second vaccine dose right away, in case the first wasn't enough.
The vaccine, merely a recipe change from the usual flu vaccine, seems safe. Federal authorities two weeks ago gave the go-ahead to start children's vaccine trials.
"It's been a piece of cake," said Kate Houley of Annapolis, Md., who jumped at the chance to enroll her three sons, ensuring that if the vaccine really works, they'll have some protection as school gets started. Eleven-year-old Ethan was among the first to be vaccinated by University of Maryland researchers and didn't even report the main side effect -- a sore arm.
In the U.S., Britain and parts of Europe, vaccinations are set to begin in mid-October, assuming those studies show they work. First in line:
Pregnant women. Despite accounting for about 1 percent of the U.S. population, they've been accounting for 6 percent of the swine flu deaths.
Children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years. Babies younger than 6 months can't get flu vaccine, so their parents and other caregivers should be inoculated to protect the infant.
Health care workers.
Younger adults with risky health conditions.
Schools around the U.S. are preparing to inoculate children in what could be the largest campus vaccinations since the days of polio. The government has bought 195 million doses and will ship them a bit at a time, starting with 45 million doses or so in October, to state health departments to dispense.
The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials is negotiating with pharmacists to help perform those vaccinations. Massachusetts even is deputizing dentists to help give swine flu vaccine, and passed emergency regulations to encourage more health care workers to get either the shot or a nasal spray version.
What if people not on the priority list show up? The idea is for pharmacists to gently encourage them to come back a few weeks later, said the association's executive director, Dr. Paul Jarris.
A concern is whether enough people are worried about swine flu to get vaccinated.
"Complacency is a big challenge," said CDC's Schuchat. "We are trying to strike a balance between complacency and alarm."
Ten-year-old Isabella Nataro had a cousin sent home from summer camp because of an outbreak, and she readily agreed when her mother, a University of Maryland vaccine researcher, signed her and her brothers up for a study of the new shot. (The store gift card that participating kids receive after each blood test was a bonus.)
"I'm kind of worried about my friends if swine flu does come to our school," the suburban Baltimore girl said. "I hope everybody else at my school gets a chance to get it."
On the Net:
CDC background on swine flu:
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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