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Survey Says Public Underestimates Flu Risks

Kate Traynor

A telephone survey sponsored by Henry Schein Inc., the distributor of influenza vaccine preparations made by Evans Vaccines Ltd., indicates that many Americans underestimate the dangers of contracting the flu.

Fifty-four percent of the 1,017 adults who participated in the survey said they did not know that influenza and HIV infection are responsible for roughly the same number of deaths in America each year. Recent surveillance estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that, in the United States, the flu may be taking a greater annual toll than HIV infection. CDC reported that approximately 15,600 HIV-infected Americans died last year, compared with an estimated 20,000 Americans who die each year of influenza-related complications.

According to CDC, the best way to avoid contracting influenza is to receive an annual flu shot. Seventy percent of people age 65 years or older who responded to the Henry Schein survey said they were likely to receive their annual flu shot, but just 42 percent of younger people planned to get vaccinated. Fifty-five percent of the survey respondents who were 55 years of age or older said they were likely to be vaccinated, compared with 27 percent of respondents under age 55.

A quarter of those surveyed said that influenza vaccination did not fit into their "personal health regimen." About the same number of respondents did not plan to be vaccinated because getting a flu shot is inconvenient or does not fit into their schedules.

But convenience and scheduling problems caused by the influenza vaccine shortages of the past two years are not a factor this season, which could encourage more people to get a flu shot. CDC reported in September that the three U.S.-licensed influenza vaccine manufacturers planned to ship more than 75 million doses of influenza vaccine to customers by Nov. 1. Several million doses of influenza vaccine remained available for purchase last month, according to CDC.

Aventis Pasteur announced last week that the company has already shipped 43 million doses of its influenza vaccine, Fluzone, and is accepting new orders for the vaccine. The company said Monday that a preservative-free formulation for pediatric use is now available and will be shipped starting this week.

Although CDC recommends that most flu shots be given during October and November, the agency has emphasized that vaccination is still appropriate through December and beyond.

To learn more about the benefits of influenza vaccination, including facts and myths about the disease and the vaccine, visit CDC's Web site.