Early Outbreak of Swine Flu A Very Real Possibility Here
by: Jack Williams, August 26, 2009 5:08:14 am
The Swine Flu was big news last spring, but unlike most flu bugs, H1N1 stayed around over the summer. Typically, health officials don't worry about flu outbreaks until maybe January. But Dr. Catherine Troisi, who's a flu expert with the Houston Health Department, says this year will probably be different.
"There have been outbreaks, particularly in camps, in congregant settings. So the big concern is with school starting-up, you get kids together. Kids hygiene habits are not the best and they're very efficient at spreading the virus and so the concern is we're going to see outbreaks very quickly."
Luckily, the H1N1 flu virus hasn't proven to be very strong so far, but health officials say that could easily change and the virus could mutate. Troisi says the outbreak earlier this year may have been a blessing in disguise.
"The spring was a good dress rehearsal for us and we've spent the summer getting ready for what we think will be an outbreak in the fall. We're preparing community messages, we're getting our laboratory ready. We were inundated with many, many samples in the spring, where we've increased our surge capacity in the laboratory."
Earlier this week, a White House report predicted that under what amounts to a worst-case scenario, up to 90,000 people could die of Swine Flu in the United States this coming fall and winter. Harris County Health Director Dr. Herminia Palacio says forecasts like that help, but are mostly for planning and are not meant to scare the public.
"I think we need to be prepared for seeing an early outbreak. I think we need to be prepared to see a lot of circulating virus. We prepare for the worse. We hope that things aren't as bad as they could be and we continue to be very, very vigilant to be able to be flexible and change our response as new facts emerge."
A good example of that, she says, is a shift in focus from older people infected with the virus to adolescents, young adults and pregnant woman who appear to be more severely affected by H1N1. She says despite all the preparation, Swine Flu could still cause big problems here.
"When we're dealing with natural disasters or infectious disease outbreaks, there's no way to prevent every single illness and unfortunately there's no way to prevent every single death and what we're trying to do is really try to mitigate as much as possible the harm to our community."
A vaccination for swine flu probably won't be available until October, and even then, health officials expect smaller supplies than what they usually have on hand for the regular flu virus.
For more information, visit the Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services web site.