By Johnny Jackson
A vaccine for the novel Type-A H1N1 influenza virus, commonly known as the swine flu, could be available by fall, according to health officials.
"If one is required, it is anticipated that it might be available as early as this fall," said Joe Quimby, senior press officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "[However] it is still too early to predict specific time lines, and a decision has yet to be made."
Last week, the CDC reported that the World Health Organization had increased the worldwide pandemic alert to Phase 6, indicating a global H1N1 pandemic with cases reported in more than 70 countries.
While there are some 18,000 confirmed and probable H1N1 cases within the United States and Puerto Rico, no vaccine is yet available in the U.S., according to Quimby.
"We are in the process of developing a vaccine," he added. "We are tracking manufacturers on the development of a vaccine. After that point, we go into clinical trials. And then, it goes into the approval process. Clinical trials must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration."
He said an H1N1 vaccine would be made available based on whether officials deem it necessary within the population of the United States.
"Normal [seasonal] flu season lasts from October to May," Quimby said. "Our numbers on seasonal influenza are dropping, but the novel H1N1 influenza continues to spread throughout the states."
Public health officials in Georgia reported late last week that the number of confirmed cases of H1N1 rose to 42 statewide, with new cases reported in a 37-year-old Newton County woman, a 42-year-old Laurens County woman, a 38-year-old Gwinnett County woman, and a 51-year-old Fulton County man. The virus was also reported in a one-year-old girl in Fulton County.
"We are also investigating a cluster of influenza Type-A in camp counselors at a Boy Scouts camp in North Georgia," said Belen Moran, spokeswoman for the Georgia Division of Public Health.
"We're watching very closely how H1N1 is spreading," continued Quimby, of the CDC. "We'll be able to predict, hopefully, the impact and the severity of the novel H1N1 influenza in the Northern Hemisphere by what we see in the Southern Hemisphere," which is currently in its flu season, Quimby said.
The state is conducting enhanced surveillance to identify H1N1 influenza in order to determine the severity of the virus and describe its epidemiology, according to the Georgia Division of Public Health web site.
State public health officials urge residents to treat the virus as seriously as they would any other infectious disease, to stop the spread of the virus.
"Public health officials are being very proactive in their analysis, tracking, surveillance and identification in working toward a possible vaccine in an H1N1 virus," Quimby said.
The Public Health web site lists precautions residents should take to stave off viral infection, including covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throwing the tissue in the trash after use, washing hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hands cleaners, avoiding close contact with sick people and staying at home if sick.