Officials bracing for reinvigorated H1N1 virus in fall

By LE ROY STANDISH

Health care professionals are anticipating another, more powerful outbreak of the H1N1 virus this fall.

Thursday, health professionals from 54 states, tribes and territories met with White House officials at the H1N1 Influenza Preparedness Summit at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

“Over the course of coming weeks and months, we will move aggressively to prepare the nation for the possibility of a more severe outbreak of the H1N1 virus,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, according to the HHS.

“We ask the American people to become actively engaged with their own preparation and prevention. It’s a responsibility we all share.”

Mesa County officials also are ramping up efforts in anticipation of schools opening in August and the onset of the traditional flu season in the fall. The Mesa County Health Department is, like other health departments across the country, awaiting its shipment of vaccine.

“I think we understand we will be giving two vaccines,” said Kristy Emerson, spokeswoman for the county Health Department. “We are going to be giving the seasonal flu vaccine and we are going to be giving the H1N1 vaccine.”

There are five manufacturers for the H1N1 vaccine, but the vaccine still needs to go through clinical trials to determine its effectiveness and proper dosage. It may not start shipping to state health departments, which would then distribute the vaccines to county health departments, until October, she said.

Exactly who gets the first vaccinations remains to be determined. Typically, it is the elderly who are most susceptible to the seasonal flu.

“Decisions are still being made about who the targets are going to be for the vaccine,” Emerson said. “It is sounding like school-aged kids.”

Last year was the first year the Centers for Disease Control called for youth under the age of 16 to be vaccinated against the seasonal flu, she said.

The county has done mass vaccinations in the past. Emerson said it is possible vaccinations could occur at schools this year.

“Are we going to be holding mass vaccination events at the schools? Possibly,” she said.

“We have our medical reserve corps (to help vaccinate).”

Relying on volunteers and local communities to care for their own is a cornerstone of the federal government’s emerging plan to deal with the potential for another H1N1 outbreak.

Last year, Mesa County was chosen as the location for a strategic national stockpile of emergency medical supplies for the entire Western Slope. Part of the supplies are anti-viral medications, such as Tamiflu.

“Anti-viral medications are given to folks who may have been exposed to the virus,” Emerson said. “It will help protect them from coming down with the virus and if already diagnosed it can reduce their symptoms.”

Tamiflu is available only by prescription. In the event of an emergency, that would not change, Emerson said. Tamiflu from the national stockpile would be dispensed only if supplies at local pharmacies run out, she said.


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