MOUNT VERNON — The Centers for Disease Control and the Ohio Department of Health have advised health-care professionals that the H1N1 virus is not going away, as is the usual case with seasonal influenza.
In a July 17 press briefing, Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at CDC, said, “The patterns we have been seeing with the 2009 H1N1 virus are quite different from seasonal influenza. This virus is continuing to cause illness and outbreaks in the summer months here in the U.S. This virus is continuing to cause illness here in the U.S. even in the summer and continues to affect a generally younger population than what we see in terms of the seasonal influenza.
“We do expect there to be an increase in influenza that occurs this fall, perhaps earlier than what we see with seasonal influenza,” Schuchat continued. “In particular, we think there may be challenges when people return to schools and our communities get back into the sort of regular times with lots of kids congregated together. ... We’ll be updating our guidance on schools and other similar institutions in partnership with education, trying to use the science of what we learned about how effective the interventions that we used, what were their costs and what were their unintended consequences. We have some general philosophies and principles that the best place for healthy kids is in school, where they can learn, where they can be educated, and where many of them get breakfast and lunch and can be nourished as well as learn. We also know that sick kids with respiratory illnesses like the influenza are better off at home where they’re being cared for and not spreading their illness to others.”
The United States continues to report the largest number of novel H1N1 cases of any country worldwide. However, most people who have become ill have recovered without requiring medical treatment. On July 17, the CDC reported 40,617 confirmed cases of H1N1 infection and 263 deaths in the United States. On an annual basis, an average of 36,000 people die of the “regular” flu in the United States. and more than 200,000 are hospitalized from serious flu-related complications.
Dennis Murray, Knox County health commissioner, said his department has been told by the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health to be prepared for the H1N1 virus to return, because it can certainly affect school-age children who seem to be more vulnerable to its effects.
“I would say don’t panic,” added Murray. “That would be one of my first messages: Don’t panic. We’re working with our community, with our school officials and with our local health care providers in preparation. It’s not here on any large scale in this community. The best we can do is plan for it and prepared.
“If we do get large volumes of H1N1 virus in the community, I think we’ll just need to deal with it. ... At this point, the best thing individuals can do is continue to wash their hands, cover their cough and stay home if they’re sick.”
Murray said some of his staff attended a recent conference sponsored by the health commissioners’ association. In the discussion on pandemic flu planning, Murray said, H1N1 was at the top of the list in planning for this fall, in terms of clinics, how one would be dispensing vaccines, and just getting the word out in terms of preparation and telling people what they can do individually.
“I know we are going to have more discussions with business leaders, school officials about what they can do,” Murray said.
Although clinical trials are under way for an H1N1 vaccine, Murray said health departments have not been told when it might be available.
“The vaccine will not be the same as ‘regular’ flu shots,” he said. “The H1N1 vaccine is a two-series shot, where the flu shot is a different, one-time shot that we give. That means there could be folks getting two or three shots this fall. At this point, we think our flu clinics will be progressing like they normally would. They won’t be geared as much toward H1N1, because that is a different virus and vaccine.”