25 November 2009

CDC warns of deaths from H1N1 flu + bacterial infections

Over at CIDRAP, my colleague Lisa Schnirring writes tonight about the CDC's concern over increasing numbers of deaths from bacterial pneumonia in people who have come down with H1N1 flu.

We've talked about this before here. Our concern of course has been MRSA, and there is good evidence that there have been fatal MRSA infections in flu victims. But the primary culprit now is not MRSA but pneumococcus (S. pneumoniae):
Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters at a press briefing that the CDC is seeing an increasing number of invasive pneumococcal disease cases around the country, but the numbers were particularly high in Denver at a time when pandemic H1N1 activity was peaking in the area.
Over the past 5 years the Denver area averaged 20 pneumococcal disease cases in October, but this year the area recorded 58, and most were in adults between the ages of 20 and 59, many of whom had underlying medical conditions.
Health officials expect to see more pneumococcal disease when seasonal flu circulates, but the infections typically strike people who are older than 65. In past pandemics secondary bacterial pneumonia infections, particularly those involving Streptococcus pneumoniae, frequently contributed to illnesses and deaths.
This is particularly troubling and sad because we have good vaccines for pneumococcus, one for adults and a different one for children. Only, people are not taking them: Uptake is only about 25% in high-risk groups and much lower in the general population, despite urgings from CDC and other health advisory boards.

Perhaps it's not surprising that people have not heeded advice to get the pneumococcus vaccine as a protection against flu's worst effects, given that uptake of the flu vaccine itself has been so low. But if you or someone you love is in a high-risk group, it would be a really good idea to rethink that.

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