State still seeing 'regional' H1N1 flu outbreaks

State still seeing 'regional' H1N1 flu outbreaks

May 7th, 2010 by Emily Bregel in News

Although the H1N1 virus outbreak that started last April appears close to petering out entirely, some states still are seeing cases and deaths, including Georgia.

Last month, Georgia was one of the states with "regional"-level outbreaks of the flu, although North Georgia health officials said most of that activity was located in metro Atlanta.

"In our region, we've actually seen the numbers go down," said Jennifer Moorer, public information officer with the North Georgia Health District, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties. "But we do want people to remain vigilant, to continue to follow good hygiene practices."

Dozen of states now are having "sporadic" flu activity but only two -- Alabama and South Carolina -- are seeing a "local" level of activity, according to surveillance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"By and large, activity is way down from where it was back in November and October," said Tom Skinner, spokesman for the CDC.

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press The Catoosa County Health Department in Ringgold Ga., is still currently vaccinating for the H1N1 flu virus.

Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press...

Since April 2009, about 60 million people in the United States have come down with H1N1 and 12,270 have died, the CDC reports, which makes the death rate from H1N1 relatively low compared to regular seasonal flu.

Still, four to five times as many young people were victims of this strain of the flu, compared to regular seasonal flu, which typically affects frail and elderly people, Mr. Skinner said.

"This was a virus that affected young people and really had a pretty dramatic impact," he said.

Since December, 357 people in Georgia have been hospitalized and 22 people have died from H1N1 influenza, said Logan Boss, public information officer for Northwest Georgia Public Health, which covers Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties.

Health officials say the reasons for the slight uptick in Georgia cases last month are unclear and likely impossible to pin down.

"Flu's unpredictable, and there's really no rhyme or reason to the way it behaves," Mr. Skinner said.

But officials said vaccination rates could have played a role. In Georgia, the vaccination rate among children was the lowest in the nation, according to CDC data released last month.

Between October 2009 and January 2010, 21.3 percent of Georgia children were vaccinated, compared to the U.S. median of 36.8 percent. On the high end, 84.7 percent of children in Rhode Island got the H1N1 shot.

Rhode Island was hit relatively early by the pandemic, and some children already may have had the virus before the vaccine was available, officials said.

By the time the vaccine made it to other state health departments, media coverage of the pandemic had died down a bit, perhaps dampening demand, Mr. Boss said.

Health officials also are emphasizing the ongoing need for patients to get vaccinated. Although a third wave of the swine flu is unlikely, it's not impossible, health officials said.

"People are continuing to be hospitalized and to die from H1N1," Mr. Boss said. "We know the vaccine is a good match for the virus, and it's got a proven track record by now. It's very safe, very effective."

In Georgia more than 1 million vaccine doses have been administered, and public health departments have 125,960 more vaccinations available statewide. Among private providers who report the information, there are more then 393,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine available.

Health departments in Dade, Walker and Catoosa counties have plenty of vaccine available, but Ms. Moorer said Whitfield County is out of adult vaccine and only has a few children's vaccinations left.


FLU TOTALS

* Total H1N1 cases: 60 million

* Total deaths: 12,270

* Georgia total hospitalizations: 1,058

* Georgia total deaths: 79

Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Georgia Department of Community Health


CASE FATALITY RATES

* H1N1 influenza -- 0.018 percent

* Seasonal flu -- 0.12 percent

* H5N1 bird flu -- 59 percent

* 1918 Spanish Flu: 2.2 percent

Source: Risk communication consultant Peter Sandman, based on data from CDC