The flu epidemic appears to be winding down in the United States, having killed 93 children between October 2003 and January 6, 2004. About a third of these kids had another underlying medical condition. The median age of the 93 children was 4 years, according to the January 9, 2004 MMWR.
This year’s flu gives immediacy to recent recommendations to give children with chronic medical conditions and all children age 6 to 23 months the flu vaccine each year. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, an avian flu is devastating flocks of chickens in South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. This is the first outbreak of bird flu in Japan since 1925, and the first ever in South Korea. So far, the virus is easily spread from bird to bird (where it is nearly 100 percent fatal), but only rarely has spread to people.
Nevertheless, 14 people in Vietnam have been admitted to hospitals with symptoms of bird flu, and 12 of these have died. Test results are back for three of these people, confirming that they were killed by this avian flu (H5N1), which they apparently caught from the birds. Results on the others should be available soon. This comes at the same time SARS has reappeared in China. Both of these stories bear close following. They may disappear quietly, but they might also become the most important health stories of 2004.