Swine flu claims 2 in Island County

Two people in Island County have died and 12 hospitalized from the H1N1 swine flu, according to Island County Health Director Keith Higman.

The Health Department is continuing its efforts to vaccinate people in high-risk categories, including the very young, the sick and healthcare workers. The inoculation against the novel strain of H1N1 will probably be available to everyone else in the county by mid-December.

“Until we feel comfortable that we have saturated the high-priority groups, then we will turn to the general public,” Higman said.

The deaths and hospitalizations from the swine flu aren’t unexpected, from a public health standpoint. Earlier this year, county Health Officer Dr. Roger Case predicted that the swine flu could double the death rates from influenza this flu season, which means 12 to 20 people would succumb.

Case explained that twice as many people will get the H1N1 virus, compared to the seasonal flu, because they haven’t developed resistance to the new strain. With twice as many sick, about twice as many people will likely die, statistically speaking.

Higman said the two people who died from swine flu had underlying health issues, which is the case in the majority of influenza deaths.

The Washington State Department of Health reports that 14 people in Western Washington have died and 505 people have been hospitalized from swine flu this year.

Higman said the Island County Health Department received 8,000 doses of swine flu vaccine this year. Most of the vaccine was distributed through healthcare providers, but the department held two clinics last week. Some at-risk residents weren’t being reached because some providers aren’t participating.

The vaccine clinics were by invitation-only and were restricted to people in the high-risk groups. Still, Higman said they were very popular. About 600 people were vaccinated Thursday at the Elks CLub in Oak Harbor.

“About 200 people were waiting at the door,” he said.

For people who aren’t in the high-risk group, there’s no sense in screaming and cursing. Higman said employees at the county health department have had to deal with some very irate folks who want their shots.

“Any time the general public thinks something is being rationed and they feel their needs are more important than others’ needs, you get some angry people,” he said. “It’s called the psychology of scarcity.”

Flu relents in schools

Last month, schools in Oak Harbor experienced an unusually high number of absences due to flu-like symptoms, with some school reporting one-quarter of the students out.

At Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Rick Schulte said these numbers are finally down to normal levels.

“They peaked quickly and are down quickly,” Schulte said.

It isn’t known whether the bug was the normal seasonal flu, the H1N1 swine flu virus, or something else.

On Oct. 20, North Whidbey Middle School had 27 percent of its students absent, while the high school had 24 percent. The majority seemed to be flu-related. All the elementary schools reported absences under 10 percent.

The media reports a second strain of swine flu could occur this season.

If H1N1 did enter Oak Harbor schools, Schulte says, “We’ve passed through the first bout easily.”

The school district is asking parents to help stem the flu by keeping sick children home. Students with a fever of 100 degrees or higher must be kept home and cannot return to school until their temperature is normal for 24 hours.

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