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Health officials prep for H1N1

by Brad FuquaWestern News
| September 10, 2009 12:00 AM

Although health officials are bracing for the worst-case scenario when it comes to the H1N1 flu strain this winter, Lincoln County residents should not panic.

Amy Smart, Lincoln County public health emergency preparedness coordinator, told commissioners on Wednesday morning that prevention can go a long way to keep H1N1 under control.

“Because the vaccine is not here right away, there are some things we can do,” Smart said. “The No. 1 thing is washing hands. And people should stay home when they’re sick.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services predicted last month that 30 percent to 50 percent of the American population could come down with H1N1 – also known as swine flu.

With a high population of older residents in Lincoln County, those numbers could be alarming. However, the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases reports that as of July 31, the median age of Americans with H1N1 was only 12 years old.

In fact, the incidence of infection was lowest among people age 65 or older.

“According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), 5 percent of the 5,514 hospitalizations and 8 percent of the 353 deaths were people older than age 65,” Smart said. “Everybody’s getting it but it’s affecting the younger people most.”

Smart said the severity of the illness is not expected to be any worse than the regular flu.

“So far, they’re telling us that this flu is not more severe than the regular seasonal flu,” Smart said. “It’s not quite as bad as all that.”

Smart said that H1N1 has probably made its way into this region.

“We’ve probably had people who have gotten better on their own who haven’t been tested for it,” Smart said. “More than likely, we’ve had some cases here in Lincoln County. So far, it hasn’t been too severe.”

An H1N1 vaccine – which involves two shots – is expected in mid-October and will be made available first to high-risk groups, including:

• Pregnant women.

• People who live with or provide care for infants younger than 6 months of age.

• Health-care and emergency medical services personnel who have direct contact with patients or infected material.

• Children ages 6 months to 4 years old.

• Children ages 6 to 18 years old with medical conditions that could put them at risk for flu-related complications.

The issue is expected to be discussed this coming Monday by the Board of Health.

The vaccine for seasonal flu is expected to be available to the public in mid-October as well.

As far as prevention goes, Smart suggests that people stay at home until they have been free of a fever for 24 hours (without using a fever-reducing medication). Infected people could be confined to home for three to five days.

“People feel that they need to go to work or parents send children to school because they don’t have anything else to do with them,” said Marianne Roose, county commissioner. “It really creates a problem.”

“Social distancing is really critical at the high school,” fellow commissioner John Konzen laughed.

Smart has worked with schools and provided guidance to various employers in the area in recent days and weeks.

“Spread information and not the flu,” Smart said.