A boy looks at a woman holding out a box of Tamiflu as she talks with journalists outside a school in Lisbon July 7, 2009. Credit: REUTERS/Nacho Doce

More than 80 percent of U.S. children severely ill with H1N1 flu have been treated swiftly with antiviral drugs, a trend that could be saving lives, U.S. health officials said on Friday.

Public education campaigns about swine flu have translated into quicker and better treatment with Tamiflu, Roche AG and Gilead Sciences Inc's influenza pill, they said.

Usually, at most 20 percent of children severely ill with influenza ever get treatment with Tamiflu or GlaxoSmithKline's inhaled drug Relenza, said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Thomas Frieden.

In this year it been over 80 percent. That means doctors are getting the message that severely ill children need to be treated, Frieden told reporters in a telephone briefing.

Given within the first day or so of a fever, Tamiflu and Relenza can greatly reduce symptoms. A third drug in the same class, BioCryst Inc's peramivir, has emergency authorization for intravenous use in the most severe cases.

The quick treatment is important, as H1N1 is more likely to infect younger adults and children, as opposed to seasonal flu, which takes it heaviest toll among the over-65s.

We have already had three times the number of deaths among children than we would (have) in a usual flu season, Frieden said. He said 17 more child deaths from swine flu had been reported in the past week, bringing the total confirmed number of H1N1 pediatric deaths to 210.

But the CDC estimates that more than 500 U.S. children have actually been killed by H1N1 -- far more than in a normal flu season.


Frieden said supplies of H1N1 vaccine should improve in coming weeks and said 73 million doses had now been distributed or were ready for distribution -- still less than half of what had originally been hoped for by this week .

We expect at least 10 million more doses in the coming week, Frieden said.

So far safety monitoring has shown no worrying side-effects from the vaccine, Frieden said, such as the rare neurological condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome linked to a 1976 vaccination campaign against a different strain of swine flu.

The likelihood that we will have a 1976-like problem with this year's H1N1 vaccine is vanishingly remote, Frieden said.

Frieden said some school districts had managed to vaccinate virtually every student. That's an important accomplishment for this year and for the future, he said. School-based vaccination programs are unusual in the United States and this year's has been difficult to organize.

The World Health Organization said separately on Friday that the pandemic appears to have peaked in Canada and the United States.

Worldwide more than 207 countries and overseas territories or communities have reported laboratory confirmed cases of pandemic influenza H1N1 2009, including at least 8,768 deaths, WHO said in a statement on its website at www.who.int.

In Europe, widespread and intense transmission of pandemic influenza virus continued to be observed across most of the continent, it added. In Western and Central Asia, influenza transmission remains active.

Both WHO and the CDC note that the confirmed number of deaths and cases are a small fraction of the actual numbers.