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Swine flu has yet to be 'confirmed' in San Juan County; vaccine slow in arriving

The number of people afflicted by swine flu is on the rise in Western Washington.

Closer to home, however, there have been no confirmed cases of H1N1 originating in San Juan County as of Tuesday, according to local public health officials.

Health and Community Services Director John Manning informed the County Council on Tuesday that local physicians and school officials have reported what he termed as "sporadic cases" of people suffering flu-like symptoms, but there has been no indication to date of a cluster of cases that would be considered a "regional outbreak".

Manning added only those ill enough to be hospitalized with flu-like symptoms are being tested for the H1N1 virus, and that no county resident has been hospitalized thus far with such symptoms.

Still, Manning noted that his department is concentrating its efforts on slowing the spread of the flu. Public health nurses are contacting parents of all students who miss school because of flu-like symptoms to gather information and provide advice about coping with the virus. Since the start of the school year, students have missed a total of 45 school days with flu-like symptoms, he said.

“We’re trying to keep kids out of school if they are sick,” he said.

Elsewhere, Manning noted, there have been seven H1N1-related deaths in Washington state during the past four weeks and the number of hospitalizations in northwest region have escalated from 1-2 a week, to 5-10 per week so far in October. Brendan Cowan, director of the local emergency management, told the council an "incident command structure" has been activated and that preparations are underway to handle an array of problems that could arise should an outbreak of swine flu occur. Such an outbreak could affect as many as one-third of the local population, he said.

Meanwhile, vaccinations clinics slated for early November have been pushed back until sometime later in the month because of production delays that have created a nationwide shortage of the injectable H1N1 vaccine. Public health received and distributed, or administered, a shipment of 200 doses of a nasally-administered H1N1 vaccine earlier this month. That vaccine is not suitable for pregnant women or those with chronic illnesses. The injectable vaccine can be administered to a much broader group than can the nasal vaccine.

According to pubic health officials, children are most vulnerable to the H1N1 strain of the flu because most have built up no immunity to this type of virus. Cases among otherwise healthy older adults tend to be somewhat less severe than the normal seasonal flu.

Manning is hopeful that over the next few weeks, shipments of the vaccines will begin arriving regularly. As the vaccine becomes available, it will be administered first to groups with a high health-risk from H1N1 and to those who are at high-risk of coming in contact with or spreading the disease, such as health care workers and emergency responders.

For information about H1N1 and availability of the vaccine, see http://sanjuanco.com/flu.

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