Beware of complacency during pandemic lull

Deaths rose after a similar reaction in 1957

Citing a fatal complacency during about the same stage of the 1957 influenza pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention is urging everyone to be vaccinated for H1N1 influenza A.

"The H1N1 virus is still circulating and it is still causing disease, hospitalizations, and deaths," said Anne Schuchat, MD, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. "Many people are still susceptible to this virus and would benefit from vaccination. We want to avoid complacency."

Most states have opened up vaccination to anyone who wants it, she noted, urging immunization in part because this is National Influenza Vaccination Week.

"More places and more providers are offering vaccines, making it even easier for those of you who want to be vaccinated to protect yourself and your families to be able to do that," Schuchat said at a press conference.

Four states continue to report widespread activity (Delaware, Maine, New Jersey, and Virginia), but overall the CDC is reporting a decline in H1N1 hospitalizations and deaths. There is little sign of any other circulating flu virus, as H1N1 has taken center stage in the first pandemic since 1968. The CDC is citing the pandemic 11 years before that as a cautionary tale.

"In 1957, [public health officials] essentially gave the 'all-clear' whistle in this December/ January time period," Schuchat said. "They had vaccine, but they didn't encourage its use. They did go on to see an increase in mortality. As long as this virus is circulating, it has the potential to cause illness. . . . The illness is down. There's plenty of vaccine. It's a key window of opportunity. We don't want to repeat the story from 1957."