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Swine flu could double death count
From 12 to 20 people in Island County will likely die from the H1N1 virus during the influenza season that just started and will continue into next April, according to county Health Officer Dr. Roger Case.
That’s about twice as many as succumb during a normal flu season. The novel strain of H1N1, commonly called swine flu, isn’t more deadly than the regular flu, but twice as many people will get it because they haven’t developed resistance to the new strain.
About 40 percent of the county’s population will contract swine flu during the season, Case said, and a small percentage will die from it.
“That’s not the worst case scenario. That’s the scenario that’s going to happen,” Case told the county commissioners during a staff session Wednesday.
Case said the swine flu vaccine could affect the rate of infection. It is currently undergoing testing, he said, and “there’s no red flags so far.” The seasonal flu vaccine is already available and the H1N1 vaccine should be out in mid-October. It will first be available to health care workers and high-risk people, like pregnant women, children younger than 5 years old and those with health concerns.
Case said the H1N1 vaccine should be available for everyone by December, but he suspects that the swine flu cases will spike in October or November.
Keith Higman, director of the county Health Department, said he’s concerned that the business community isn’t paying attention to the pandemic. Forty percent of employees out sick with swine flu for a week or two could have a big impact on business.
Indeed, Case said swine flu could be especially bad for small businesses. If a small business has to close down for awhile because nobody can work, Case said there’s a good chance it will never open again.
“Companies really need to have a continuity-of-business plan,” he said.
According to Case, it’s very unlikely that schools will be closed down because of an outbreak. Schools across the world were shut down early this year because of swine flu concerns, but Case said the dramatic impact that has on the community doesn’t outweigh the modest effect on transmission rates.
Besides vaccinations, Case said the best thing people can do to avoid contracting the disease is simple hand washing. Also, covering coughs and wiping down surfaces is important. People should stay home from work or school if they are sick.
“Teachers are going to have to be on their toes to spot sick kids and send them home,” he said.
Case said the best treatment is “fluids, rest and the elixir of time.”
The Island County Health Department has been working with the hospitals, clinics, schools and a variety of entities for months to prepare for the pandemic. Case said the health department has the capability to open a phone bank to answer community concerns, but he’s not sure that will be necessary.
One of the unique things about swine flu is that it has the greatest impact on younger people, unlike regular seasonal flu, which is mainly dangerous to the very young and very old. Case said the majority of people hospitalized because of the disease are from 2 to 24 years old. Older people, he said, have some immunity built up from exposure to similar strains over the years.
The symptoms of H1N1 are very similar to seasonal flu, but with a couple extra unpleasant effects thrown in. All types of flu can cause fever, coughing, a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigues. Swine flu can also cause vomiting and diarrhea.
A good source for information on the H1N1 flu is www.flu.gov.
Seasonal flu shots available
Swine flue shots aren’t available yet, but the Island County Health Department has announced its schedule for seasonal flu clinics for September and October.
The health department is especially encouraging high risk individuals to get the flu shot. That includes adults 50 and over, pregnant women, kids between 6 and 18, and those with chronic illnesses.
The first clinic will be held at Freeland’s Trinity Lutheran Church, Wednesday, Sept. 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The church is located at 18341 State Route 525.
The Coupeville clinic will be held at the United Methodist Church Thursday, Oct. 15, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 608 N. Main St.
The cost of the flu shot vaccine is $30, and Island County Public Health reminds the public that the shot cannot cause the flu. They will also accept Medicare Part B, Medicaid and Group Health.
Again, the H1N1 swine flu vaccine will not be available at these clinics.
Following these special clinics, seasonal flu vaccines will be available by appointment at Public Health office locations. For more information, contact Island County Public Health at 360-321-5111 X7351 or 360-679-7351, or visit the Web site at www.islandcounty.net/health.