Monday, 17 June 2024

Health officials: H1N1 flu worries subsiding

LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's health officer reported on Thursday that worries about the Novel H1N1 influenza – which has commonly been referred to as the swine flu – appear to be subsiding, but the county continues to plan for possible future appearances of the virus.

Dr. Karen Tait's office reported Thursday that there still remain “lingering possibilities” that the virus could be discovered in Lake County.

However, the likelihood of detecting it in the immediate future appears to be dwindling. As of May 13, the combined number of probable and confirmed cases in California was 473 – none of them in Lake County.

Tait reported that the similarity between symptoms of the Novel H1N1 virus and seasonal influenza, coupled with the fact that sophisticated laboratory tests are needed to identify the new virus, could only be done on a sampling of patients. That means that the virus could have entered the county undetected.

Even so, Tait said local health officials are breathing a collective sigh of relief as the characteristics of the virus have become better understood.

In spite of the fact that the population is susceptible to catching this virus, the resulting illness has been no more severe than seasonal influenza, according to Tait. In addition, it does not appear to be as easily spread person-to-person.

With the influenza season winding down, public health officials are hoping for a break from the recent concerns and uncertainties that go along with discovery of a new health threat. But Tait said that does not mean that efforts to fight this virus will stop.

Despite the relatively benign nature of the new H1N1 virus to date, health officials want to be ready for changes that could occur between now and another wave of infection, which might be expected to coincide with the usual flu season beginning in the fall, or could possibly come sooner, Tait reported.

Consideration needs to be given to the potential for the new virus to further evolve, possibly returning in a more virulent form.

“There is no easy way to predict the behavior of new influenza viruses,” said Tait. “I do not want to be an alarmist, since the virus may weaken as easily as it could worsen. But it is our job in public health to plan for all possibilities.”

The recent intense public health response to the discovery of H1N1 challenged Lake County’s Public Health Division to implement emergency plans simultaneously with state and federal health agencies, Tait said.

“We learned from this experience and had an opportunity to further develop our procedures,” she explained. “Because the Novel H1N1 virus particularly impacted school-age children, we worked closely with the Lake County Office of Education and schools throughout the county.”

Tait said the Public Health Division will be far from idle during the coming months.

Although a vaccine for the Novel H1N1 virus is not yet available, one might be expected by sometime this fall. If so, an unusually busy vaccination schedule can be anticipated.

Other efforts to curtail the spread of flu are likely to intensify again. “It is entirely possible that we will see both seasonal flu strains and the new H1N1 strain circulating at the same time, which is a good reason to be especially diligent about measures to reduce transmission of infection in the community,” she said.

Families should remember the recently emphasized lessons for infection control, namely good hand washing, and covering coughs and sneezes.

To be ready for the next flu season, it is also a good idea to have a thermometer on hand – an important item for taking care of flu patients at home.

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