HOUSTON, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- Forty-eight U.S. states are now reporting widespread influenza activity while production delays continue to hamper distribution of the A/H1N1 flu vaccine across the country, a leading U.S. health official said on Friday.
"The disease continues to be widespread and is currently widespread in 48 states," Thomas R. Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a press conference.
Statistics released by the CDC on Friday showed that the remaining two states, Hawaii and South Carolina, as well as Guam, the District of Columbia and U.S. territory Puerto Rico are all reporting regional or local flu activity.
From Aug. 30 to Oct. 24, there had been 12,466 laboratory-confirmed influenza associated hospitalizations, 530 laboratory-confirmed influenza associated deaths, 25,985 pneumonia and influenza syndrome-based hospitalizations, as well as 2,916 pneumonia and influenza (P&I) syndrome-based deaths across the nation, according to the CDC.
"During week 42 (last week), 7.1 percent of all deaths reported through the 122-Cities Mortality Reporting System were due to P&I. This percentage was above the epidemic threshold of 6.6 percent for week 42," the CDC said. "Including week 42, P&I mortality has been above the threshold for four consecutive weeks."
Meanwhile, visits to doctors for influenza-like illness (ILI) continued to increase all over the country, and overall, are far higher than levels expected for this time of the year.
Nationwide, 8.0 percent of patient visits reported through the U.S. Outpatient Influenza-like Illness Surveillance Network (ILINet) were due to influenza-like illness, up from the 7.1 percent in the previous week. This percentage is more than tripling the national baseline of 2.3 percent, the CDC experts explained.
At least 351 schools were closed last week alone, affecting 126,000 students in 19 states, according to the U.S. Education Department. So far this school year, about 600 schools have temporarily shut their doors.
The number of closures this year appears on target to surpass the roughly 700 schools closed last spring when the first wave of the A/H1N1 flu hit the country.
The latest statistics worried the U.S. government. Frieden said U.S. President Barack Obama is deeply concerned about the wide spreading of the new virus.
"He's directly involved. He's briefed regularly. He asks a series of important and relative questions and wants to make sure that we're doing everything that we absolutely can," Frieden said.
The president wanted us "to learn the lessons for the future, so we can get our technology in better shape through a real focus on influenza and other emerging diseases in the future," he added.
Though the A/H1N1 vaccine supply is improving steadily in the past week, according to the CDC director, there is not enough for all providers or people who would want it.
"Last week, we had 16.1 million doses available. As of today, we have 26.6 million doses available for shipment. That is an increase of 10.5 million doses in that seven-day period," he told the reporters. "This understands to be frustrating, but the gap between supply and demand is closing."
In order to reduce the impact of the second wave of the A/H1N1 pandemic, Frieden said the CDC had released 300,000 courses of liquid Tamiflu from the strategic national stockpile (SNS) on Oct.1.
"We are now releasing an additional 234,000 courses of liquid Tamiflu from the SNS," Frieden said, adding that is the entire supply from the U.S. strategic national stockpile.
"With disease throughout the country, it makes sense to release what we have," he explained, promising that the government will get more from manufacturers as soon as they can provide it.
"It's only the end of October and flu season lasts until May," he said.
Looking to the future, the CDC director seems to be confident. "We continue to do everything that we can to reduce the impact of H1N1 influenza," he said.