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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CDC Update on the Flu

Aired January 8, 2004 - 14:31   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go now to Atlanta and the Centers for Disease Control. Julie Gerberding is the person in charge there. We'll get an update on the flu.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DR. JULIE GERBERDING, CDC: ... we are still encouraging people with flu-like illness who meet the criteria for concerns for complications to be sure and seek medical attention if they do develop the illness. And for the rest of us who don't have chronic conditions, it's important to pay attention to the differences between influenza and colds so we don't make unnecessary trips to the health care system and handle our illness with the usual over the counter medications.

We also know that flu is unpredictable. And even though we're hoping that we're past the peak for this early phase of the season, in past years we have seen flu come back and we've also seen new strains emerge late in the season. So it's still important to be vigilant. And we will be continuing our activities at CDC to make sure we're doing everything possible to minimize the consequences of flu this year.

One of the things that we're doing is developing a new campaign to help children do the things that will prevent transmission of colds and flus in all kinds of settings, but particularly schools. So I'm pleased to announce the Germ-Stopper Campaign.

Many of these materials will be up on our Internet today. These materials will be available for schools, for churches, for any venue where children gather or parents gather because the advice here would apply to adults just as easily as it would apply to children.

Basically, this campaign is based on the concept that flus and colds are mainly spread through close contact, through coughing and sneezing, and through transmitting the germs on hands. So there is a strong emphasis on that old-fashioned intervention, good hand hygiene. So we're hoping that this will just be a reminder in schools and other public places to take the simple steps that really do make a difference in preventing transmission of these infectious diseases.

We are concerned about children. Today's morbidity and mortality weekly does report that 93 children have died of flu so far this year. That's a very, very sad and sobering figure.

We don't have the data from previous years to really understand whether this represents an increase in the consequences of flu compared to previous outbreaks or whether this is something unique to this year's flu season. But we will be undertaking the necessary studies to find out in the future.

We also have had very good cooperation from states and health departments who are reporting these deaths in other serious encephalitis complications of flu. And so we'll learn more about this as we go forward this year.

But in the meantime, we are making some specific recommendations to clinicians in particular, recognizing that children with chronic medical conditions are at increased risk for hospitalization and death.

And so to have very low threshold of suspicion for thinking about flu in children with underlying medical conditions and also to test for influenza in communities where the disease is present so that concern can be diagnosed and then if it's appropriate, be treated with the anti-viral therapies.

And in addition, because some of the children have died from complicating bacterial pneumonias, to think about bacterial pneumonia, to test the child to make sure that the infection is sensitive to the antibiotics that would be indicated if there was complicating pneumonia, and to be alert for drug-resistant bacteria because that has been a problem in some of the children with the complicating illnesses.

So there are steps that clinicians can take. And also steps that parents can take, particularly if you're a parent of a child who does have some other medical conditions, such as asthma, or immuno- suppressive disease or kidney disease or heart disease.

If your child develops a high fever and flu-like symptoms, be sure to consult with your clinician early to make sure the child is not at risk for complication of influenza.

O'BRIEN: We've been listening to Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While she continues talking on about the flu season -- which we appear to be on the backside of the worst of right now, the government now saying 38 states listed with wide spread flu activity, down from 42 last month -- we will continue to monitor her news briefing for you, bringing you any relevant information as it comes in to us.

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