New Bern, NC – INTRO - Earlier this week 12 new cases of the H1N1 virus were reported in the state, bringing the total number of infections to 51. While the virus hasn't totally run its course, much of the initial concern has died away. Craven County had the most reported cases in the state with eight. George Olsen spoke with the county's Health Director about local reaction to the virus and what might come in the future.
When the swine flu initially hit in Mexico, many saw a worst case scenario arising.
"Because initially the death rates coming out of Mexico, we were hearing 1500 infected and 150 deaths, and normally when you start a epi curve on something like that if you initially have 150 deaths then normally it will get worse."
Craven County Health Director Scott Harrelson. The numbers surrounding that initial death report came down dramatically and this week it was reported the total number of deaths in Mexico attributed to swine flu increased by two to 108 the vast majority of worldwide deaths which totaled 141 from infections in 74 countries. Craven was the hardest hit county in the state, but its problems paled compared to what occurred in Mexico.
"The cases in Craven County none were ill enough to put in the hospital, they were sick for a few days and then they got better."
That lack of severity of illness was probably the reason the Health Department was never able to quite pinpoint the source of the cluster illness. At first they thought the source was a Marine who had traveled to New York, but later found his travel time did not match up with cases in that state.
"We did a little bit of digging after we did contact investigations and there were 5 others with influenza like illness prior to him becoming sick, and some of those he could have come in contact during the course of a day and we're thinking one of those was probably the source case, but they were never tested. They were already on the road to recovery and their health status was back to normal by the time we picked up on this one individual."
Three of the cases were children, and that prompted an order to close a Havelock elementary school for a week in May. But the school ultimately re-opened after a three-day shutdown as concern about H1N1 started to die. The initial order in hindsight could have seemed panic-driven and unnecessary, but Harrelson thinks the 3-day shutdown of Arthur Edwards Elementary could have kept the spread of the virus down.
"In retrospect we think that closing the school when we did did stop the spread of it because one of the children that was infected really wasn't listed as a close contact of the other two children. The first two were playmates after school and it was understandable that one passed H1N1 to the other but the third child really didn't have a whole lot of contact wasn't in the same grade, wasn't in the same class, didn't play after school, so we think he picked it up in school somewhere."
This week the Health Department was scheduled to meet with officials from the school system, the hospital and Cherry Point to discuss what went well and what didn't with an eye toward a possible resurgence of the H1N1 virus in winter. Harrelson is hoping the virus doesn't have an eye of history.
"Several people have mentioned the 1918 Spanish flu which was very virulent they had a mild bout with a spring virus and then came back in the fall and it was much worse. That's the fear and that's the worry, and what they're doing now is they're entering flu season in the southern hemisphere and they're taking a real keen look at what's going on down there as far as what type of seasonal flu is occurring down there."
Toward protecting yourself against the H1N1 virus, Harrelson says during your annual pilgrimage to your doctor for a flu inoculation, you might not only roll up the right sleeve of your shirt, but also take the left one up as well.
"The seasonal flu production has already begun, so they can't roll an H1N1 vaccine into the seasonal flu so we'll probably see two flu shots this year instead of one, you might have to have two shots instead of one and that's the first time I've ever seen that."
Scott Harrelson is health director for Craven County. I'm George Olsen.