Doctor: Thousands sick in Mesa County

Worst probably yet to come, Health Department director Aduddell says

Thousands of county residents already have or had the swine flu, and if the 1918 pandemic is any guide to future events, the worst is likely yet to come, predicts Dr. Michael Aduddell, director of the Mesa County Health Department.

“That is probably pretty safe to say, we have already had several thousand people infected,” Aduddell said.

The Health Department monitors absentee rates at local schools, reports of flu-like symptoms at clinics and hospital emergency rooms, but confirmed H1N1 cases are limited to people who are hospitalized and test positive for the virus, said Kristy Emerson, department spokeswoman.

A true count is difficult, if not impossible to obtain, because public health officials are recommending that people with illnesses stay home. Additionally, the virus, for the most part, lacks a knockout punch, so most people infected are not seeking medical attention.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported 691 confirmed cases of H1N1 in the state as of Thursday. Aduddell said Thursday that Mesa County has 14 confirmed cases of H1N1.

A true count of those infected with H1N1 may never be known.

“There is no way to really take them (those who are not tested) into account,” Aduddell said. “We do know the hospitalizations are the tip of the iceberg.”

Looking forward, with knowledge of how the pandemic of 1918 affected the population then, he said the H1N1 virus may have several weeks to go before it reaches full strength in 2009. But, he added, this virus is infecting people earlier than year’s past.

Eight people were hospitalized for the virus in Mesa County just this week, according to the Health Department.

For the last five years Mesa County has averaged 21.6 hospitalizations per year of people experiencing flu-like symptoms.

“Before, the earliest case in the last five years that was hospitalized was in November,” Aduddell said. “And we haven’t even started the regular seasonal flu.”

This pandemic could run a similar course as the last one in 1918, which killed 130 people in sparsely populated, rural Mesa County. The pandemic hit its peak in mid November in 1918. The first death due to the pandemic was on Sept. 24, 1918, Aduddell said.

“What struck me was the timing was very similar” to when the H1N1 virus erupted this fall, Aduddell said. “The novel viruses take on a different seasonal pattern. It is a much earlier one.”

The county continues to receive shipments of vaccine for the swine flu, but initial shipments are for a few target populations. The vaccinations are available for pregnant women, health care workers who provide direct patient care and children ages 2 to 4.

Vaccinations are free and available for the specified groups only, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday on a walk-in basis at the Mesa County Health Department, 510 29 1/2 Road. On Wednesdays the clinic lasts until 5:45 p.m.

School District 51 has closed one school, Nisley Elementary, 543 28 3/4 Road, because of high absenteeism. District 51 spokesman Jeff Kirtland said Nisley had a student absentee rate of 35 to 40 percent before closing Thursday and today.


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