Experts say few people are getting flu shots Summer outbreaks may portend dangerous season

October 14, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- Some serious summer flu outbreaks have infectious disease experts gearing up for what could be a ferocious -- and early -- flu season.

Too few people are getting the flu shots that could save their lives in the yearly epidemics that sweep the nation, said experts who gathered here yesterday for an international conference on vaccines.

Even fewer are getting a second shot, pneumococcal vaccine, which prevents the pneumonia, bronchitis, middle-ear infections and sinusitis that often follow flu. The vaccine, needed only once in a lifetime, has been available since 1977 and can be taken at the same time as the flu shot.

Influenza hits tens of millions of Americans each year and kills an estimated 20,000, mostly among the elderly.

Pneumococcal disease claims an estimated 40,000 lives in the United States each year, also mainly among the elderly. And with increased antibiotic resistance among bacteria and an aging population, vaccines are more important than ever, experts said.

Summer flu outbreaks are relatively uncommon and can signal an early or severe flu season. The two outbreaks were caused by a strain, the A/Sydney virus, that wrought havoc in Los Angeles last winter and led to hospitals so crowded that some shut down and others were forced to postpone elective surgeries.

Pub Date: 10/14/98

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