New Bern, NC – INTRO - Officials from Pitt County and city agencies and local outside groups met in Greenville yesterday to discuss plans for dealing with a pandemic flu virus. George Olsen has more.
The H1N1 virus is here, no doubt. In fact, it's prevalent enough where officials have stopped counting.
"For instance, in Pitt County there are 13 confirmed cases but we know that that number is doesn't mean a whole lot because we know we've got physicians who've seen 13 cases this week right here in Greenville."
Dr. John Morrow, the director of public health for Pitt County. He says the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have long ago advised to no longer bother counting because the virus is here and the question is what to do about it. Dr. Morrow says anyone presenting with influenza-like illness today more than likely is infected with the H1N1 strain
"96% of the isolates that were run at the state public health laboratory last week in Raleigh were H1N1."
Government officials and private interests met in Greenville to discuss what next. The good news at this stage is while the number of cases is starting to pick up, its not presenting as anything out of the ordinary.
"Most people are sick for just a few days with a mild respiratory illness and a fever and sore throat and some body aches, but for most people it doesn't require a visit to a doctor's office or emergency room. It doesn't require any treatment. It just requires them to stay home for about 7 days so they don't infect other people."
The concern though is if the virus changes. Dr. Morrow says currently Pitt County would receive about 78,000 doses of a special H1N1 flu vaccine perhaps by mid-October which he described as "plenty" if the virus continues in its current mild form.
"If the illness stays the way it is right now the demand for the vaccine likely will not be that great. However, in the worst case scenario if the flu comes back in the fall like the 1918 flu did that had a high mortality rate, then we could be looking at a much different scenario where there's a much higher demand for the vaccine in all our communities."
A problem if the virus becomes more virulent and demand increases is the nature of the vaccine. The vaccine is currently being produced at six U-S facilities with testing still to be done to determine safety. This vaccine would be in addition to the typical seasonal flu vaccine, and the H1N1 vaccine might require a booster, meaning not just your typical one visit for vaccination but up to three, which could put a strain on providers.
"If we were required to get the vaccine out in a short period of time in a high demand situation where would we get the resources to provide that vaccine and where would we physically do that what staffing would be required, that's what we looked at today."
There's also questions about additional bed capacities at hospitals if the virus turns virulent. Likewise, Dr. Morrow says its still too early at this point to determine how bad an outbreak of the flu virus would have to be to trigger closures of public facilities such as schools. In the meantime, the best method residents anywhere can take to prevent such an outbreak remain simple cover your mouth if you sneeze or cough, wash your hands regularly, and stay home and away from others if you do in fact catch the virus. Dr. John Morrow is Pitt County's Public Health Director. I'm George Olsen.