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Flu-1CHICAGO: Flu remains widespread in the United States and 29 children have died of complications from it, but there are signs the epidemic is easing, US health officials said on Friday.


For the week ended Jan. 12, 48 states reported widespread influenza, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


"Many parts of the country are still seeing high and in some parts, increasing levels of activity while overall activity is beginning to go down," Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, said in a teleconference.


Nine children have died from complications of the flu in the past two weeks, bringing the death toll of children from this year's flu season to 2 9 , the CDC reported.


That compares with a total of 34 pediatric deaths for the entire 2011-2012 flu season, which was considered an especially mild flu season.


The CDC does not keep track of all flu-related deaths in adults, but during the second week of January, 8.3 percent of deaths reported to its 122 Cities Mortality Reporting System were due to pneumonia and influenza. That is up from 7.3 percent reported the previous week, and exceeds the epidemic threshold of 7.2 percent.


Flu deaths vary widely from season to season, ranging from a low of 3,000 to a high of nearly 50,000.


Frieden said it is not too late to get a flu vaccine.


He said flu vaccine makers had expected to produce 135 million doses of vaccine, but they have been able to eek out an additional 10 million doses. So far, he said 129 million doses have been made available for distribution.


"That means there is more vaccine out there for suppliers to order," he said.


To avert shortages of the antiviral drug Tamiflu made by Roche Holding AG's Genentech unit, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg said her agency has authorized the company to distribute 2 million doses of a 75 milligram capsule from its stockpile that contains an older version of the package instructions, but is not out of date.


"This medication is fully approved," she said. "To assure people have access, we took the necessary steps to allow Genentech to distribute its reserve without requiring them to repackage it, which would have taken months," she said.


Last week, Roche said it was in short supply of the liquid form of Tamiflu, given to children who already have the flu to alleviate symptoms.


At the time, Roche said it had warned wholesalers and distributors that temporary delays in shipments were imminent.


Pharmacists can make a substitute by dissolving Tamiflu capsules in a sweet liquid.


Copyright Reuters, 2013


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