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Health officials limiting flu reporting

POSTED: July 31, 2009 9:39 a.m.
The public may not be hearing a lot about the latest confirmed cases of swine flu, but the pandemic remains a threat.
The novel H1N1 strain of influenza spread across the nation in late April and on July 24, the Centers for Disease Control estimated the United States had about 43,000 cases.
National and local public health officials have kept close tabs on the spread of the disease, but the CDC recently announced it will no longer keep track of confirmed and probable cases, according to Dr. Diane Weems, chief medical officer for the Coastal Health District.
The Coastal Health District, covering an eight-county area including Liberty, has reported 10 swine flu cases as of last Friday and will follow the CDC’s lead.
“Because it’s so misleading, the CDC is not doing it anymore,” Weems said. “Those numbers aren’t truly reflective of the burden of disease in our community and it becomes a huge burden to continue to report those numbers.”
Any scare that swirled around the virus has calmed down, but experts estimate swine flu may hit 40 percent of the country by the end of the year.
“I don’t think there’s hysteria about it,” Weems said. “I think there’s an appropriate level of concern.”
Liberty Regional Medical Center has tested one person since the H1N1 alert. Results came back negative, according to LRMC spokesperson Rene’ Harwell.
“Liberty Regional has an influenza program in place designed to help prevent the transmission of flu,” Harwell said. “Under this program, patients diagnosed with flu are placed in droplet isolation to prevent its spread.”
Although the public currently seems to be less alarmed, many people are still educating themselves on prevention and recognizing symptoms.
“A lot of them are wanting us to talk about prevention,” Weems said of the calls her office still receives.
While a swine flu vaccine may be released some time this fall, Weems said she’s unsure of the exact date.
“When that vaccine will actually be available on our doorstep, we don’t know,” she said. “We certainly have been busy preparing for plans to offer that in various types of venues.”
Weems said she thinks there is an added concern with school starting next week.
“We know children are good disseminators of germs. They don’t always practice good hygiene,” she said.
At least 70 percent of the confirmed cases in our district have been from people 18 years old and younger.
“We know that those under the age of 25 have been disproportionately affected,” Weems said.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control indicate asthma, obesity and compromised immune systems are risk factors for swine flu.
“Most of the cases … are mild and most of them are recovering, but we know there has been a handful of folks who have become more ill,” Weems said.
Everyone who becomes infected with H1N1 isn’t going to end up in the hospital.
“The majority of people will do well and recover,” Weems said. “In a healthy individual, generally, it’s been mild, thus far. We expect we will see more cases we hope we continue to see cases that are mild.”
She encourages everyone to continue to practice good hygiene, including handwashing and using alcohol-based sanitizing gels.
“And if you’re sick,’ Weems said, “stay home.”
 

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