U.S. officials wary of another wave of H1N1 flu

Citing mistakes made in the 1957 flu pandemic, federal officials on Jan. 7 urged hesitant Americans to get vaccinated now against H1N1 flu to prevent any possibility of another wave of illness and deaths.

Vaccine is now plentiful across the country, and most states are encouraging people of all ages to get shots, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of immunization and respiratory disease for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When supplies were short, most states tried to limit the vaccine to children, pregnant women and others at higher risk.

In 1957, Schuchat said, officials “gave the all-clear whistle” in midwinter and did not encourage flu shots, which were then rarer and also less purified. As a result, she said, there was another substantial wave of deaths in March 1958.

But she conceded to The New York Times that no pandemic was identical to any other. The death rate from H1N1 flu appears to be about a quarter of that of the 1957 flu, but that may be because of antiviral drugs and better ventilators, not the virus itself.