U.S. health officials say that while the H1N1 swine flu is widespread in the nation, the country is better equipped than any time in history to deal with the epidemic.
The secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, told a U.S. Senate panel Wednesday that flu cases are more widespread and severe in the U.S. this year.
She says less than one month into the influenza season, 86 children have died from the H1N1 virus. She says that figure is the equivalent to the number of childhood deaths that have occurred in entire recent flu seasons.
Sebelius says the good news is that the H1N1 virus has not changed significantly since April, which means the vaccine created to fight the flu is still very effective.
The secretary says problems delaying production of the vaccine have been corrected, and she anticipates it will be available by early November to any American who wants to be vaccinated.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Education Secretary Arne Duncan also testified before the committee. Napolitano says $3 billion has been forwarded to hospitals around the country to help deal with the surge of flu-related hospitalizations.
Secretary Duncan says his department is focused on keeping students safe and schools open. He says that as schools began following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for dealing with the influenza, fewer schools closed.
He says the more students are vaccinated, along with other precautions, the more schools will stay open.
The World Health Organization declared the swine flu outbreak a pandemic earlier this year. The agency says more than 4,700 deaths attributed to H1N1 influenza have been reported worldwide.