Bracing for a new flu

Local health care professionals urge people to stay calm, be careful

Local health care professionals urge people to stay calm, be careful

September 04, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

As flu season approaches and public concern continues to grow, health officials and clinicians have been trying to educate the public on what swine flu is and what it really means if you get it.

"It's like getting the regular, seasonal flu," said Dr. Matthew Hahn, who has a private practice in Hancock.

Hahn's advice to his patients? "Stay calm and take good care of yourself."

Health care professionals say much of the public fear around swine flu, formally known as H1N1, stems from the fact that it's new. Local and national health officials are bracing for a worse-than-normal flu season, and are anticipating more hospitalizations and possible deaths because swine flu will be circulating around the same time as the seasonal flu.

"There's simply more of it," said Rod MacRae, spokesman for the Washington County Health Department. "If you double the case rate, you double the mortality rate."

There have been five confirmed swine flu-related cases in Washington County, MacRae said. Washington County Public Schools announced on Monday its first confirmed case of swine flu.


Doctors and health care officials are urging people to take the same precautions as though they were dealing with the seasonal influenza.

"If someone comes down with this, they may be sick for three or four days, but they'll be fine," said Tom Skinner, a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And if you're feeling sick, "stay home," Skinner said. If you detect symptoms, see your doctor.

As with seasonal flu young people are most likely to get swine flu, but they aren't the ones most likely to suffer from serious complications - which include pneumonia and death.

The prevalence of swine flu

Swine flu first appeared in Maryland in May, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The state reports that there have been 166 swine flu hospitalizations and seven swine-flu related deaths as of Sept. 1.

State officials discussed swine flu preparations Wednesday, with Gov. Martin O'Malley addressing how the state will handle distributing swine flu vaccines despite $20 million in budget cuts to local health departments.

Nationally, there have been 8,843 hospitalizations and 556 deaths associated with swine flu in the United States since January, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The spread of swine flu seems eminent.

In August, the World Health Organization warned countries in the northern hemisphere to prepare for a second wave of a pandemic spread of swine flu. The organization's warning comes after it announced in June that the world was at the start of a 2009 swine flu pandemic.

Who should get the vaccine

Skinner said people with compromised immune systems or other chronic health problems are more likely to suffer from the serious swine flu complications and ought to be vaccinated for swine flu.

Skinner said pregnant women, and people who live or work with people who are at-risk should be also vaccinated. He added to that list school-going population - typically people ages 6 months to 24 years old - because schools environments are good breeders for disease.

The CDC is expecting 45 to 50 million swine flu vaccine doses by mid-October and plans to average 20 million doses each week thereafter by the end of December. The vaccine would be distributed to states based on population, Skinner said.

MacRae said the county health department did not yet know how many doses it would receive, but had been assured by the CDC that it would have enough vaccines to meet demand and to expect the vaccine by mid-October.

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