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AMERICAN MORNING

Interview With Dr. Anthony Fauci, National Institutes of Health

Aired January 8, 2004 - 07:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: This year's flu season got off to a very early start, severe outbreaks in many states across the country and it is still on the rise in some parts.
How serious, though, is the spread right now? And what should people do who did not get the flu shot still? Should they try and get one now?

With some answers, to Washington now and Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the National Institutes of Health directors down there.

Nice to see you, Doctor. Good morning to you.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIR., NAT'L. INST. OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Good morning.

HEMMER: At the beginning of the season, we were told this could be one of the deadliest seasons yet. Is that still the case?

FAUCI: I don't think one can say it's going to be one of the deadliest seasons yet. We had an early appearance of flu, earlier than most seasons. Generally, you see a peak in January. We were seeing a lot of cases in the end of November, the beginning of December. We still now are in the throes of what we consider a serious season. You never really know until the end of the season when you can retrospectively look back.

Right now, we're still accelerating. As you mentioned a moment ago, there are certain parts of the country -- for example, at least five states that were classified as widespread activity that are now down to regional activity: Washington state, Kansas, Nebraska, Kentucky and West Virginia.

But if you look at the nation as a whole, it's still accelerating. So, it would be premature to say at all that we've plateaued and are coming down, even though there are some regions of the country where that is, in fact, the case.

HEMMER: Doctor, a month ago when we were speaking here, you described this Fujian strain as slipping through the system. You say six to eight months before you have to make the decision to make the vaccine you have to grow it in the laboratory. But this did not grow.

FAUCI: Right.

HEMMER: If you can't grow it in a lab, is that a mistake? FAUCI: Well, that's not a mistake. That's a technical difficulty of not being able to get the strain in a form where you could put it into the vaccine in time for the cutoff point. And that's the thing that from the research standpoint we are working on very diligently right now of developing new types of approaches of being able to quicken and give greater efficiency to the process of being able to identify the strain and getting it into the vaccine in time.

Unfortunately, with Fujian, even though we were aware that Fujian was circulating and likely would hit us in this particular season, at the point where the decision had to be made about what to put into the vaccine, it was just not growing efficiently enough to actually incorporate into the vaccine.

HEMMER: Let me try it a different way then. How often is it that certain strains do not grow in the lab?

FAUCI: If you look at the match between what happens in a given season and the decision that the FDA and the CDC make about what to put into the vaccine, they are correct about 9 out of 10 times. So, it's an unusual situation where you can't get the right strain in. That just happened to happen this year, not because of a lack or a mistake in recognition, but of a technical difficulty in getting it to be able to grow up well enough to put into the vaccine.

HEMMER: Just a few short...

FAUCI: But that's an unusual event.

HEMMER: Just a few short seconds left here. When do you know whether or not this country is out of the woods this year for what's been a brutal flu season?

FAUCI: Well, you start to see -- when you see a more widespread appearance of the trend that we are now seeing in Washington, Kansas, Nebraska and the states that I just mentioned. When you see states that have widespread activity -- and there are 42 of them right now -- when they start to turn the corner, then you have a pretty good indication that we're going in the right direction.

HEMMER: We will watch it. Dr. Anthony Fauci, thanks for coming back here on AMERICAN MORNING.

FAUCI: Good to be here.

HEMMER: All right.

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