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Kitsap officials talk H1N1 with concerned citizens

Dr. Scott Lindquist, health officer for the Kitsap County Health District, and Phyllis Mann, director of the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management, were present at the Kitsap Regional Library’s Sylvan Way branch Tuesday night to talk to concerned residents about the country’s current pandemic, the H1N1 flu virus, and dispel rumors people may have heard about the illness.

“Pandemic is not a bad word,” Lindquist said. “It just means it is widespread.”

The 2009 H1N1 flu, which has been misnamed “swine flu,” is actually a combination of bird, human and swine influenzas, according to Lindquist.

In fact, all influenza known to humans began in birds, Lindquist said. What makes this new strain dangerous is that it is a new combination of all three, and humans have not built up immunity to it.

“Influenza is not easily transferred from birds to humans,” Lindquist said. “But it transfers very easily from humans to humans.”

While the new virus is problematic and new vaccines were required, Lindquist said there is some good news.

“So far, the virus has remained stable,” he said. “It isn’t mutating currently. That is not to say it won’t mutate in the future, but at present it has not.”

April was a turning point in the research of this new strain of virus because cases of flu were still being seen. Typical seasonal flu is usually confined to winter months, but this new strain has caused hospitalizations and deaths through the summer and still continues to do so today.

A troubling fact for this fall’s flu season, Lindquist said, is Kitsap County will be dealing with three strains of influenza. Two seasonal flu viruses, H3N2 and H1N1, will still be around as well as the new 2009 H1N1 pandemic virus. The vaccinations for these viruses will be different and most people will need two vaccinations to fully protect themselves. Many small children will need as many as four shots over 28 days to be fully protected.

Kitsap County is expecting its first shipment of 2009 H1N1 vaccine between the middle of October and the middle of November, but Lindquist said only 200 doses will be available.

“We spent a lot of time deciding what to do with these initial 200 doses,” he said.

The plan is to immunize health care workers who are at most risk of contracting, and worse, spreading the virus to patients at risk of severe complications.

A later shipment will include 60,000 doses for the rest of the residents in the county.

Every dose will be free, but some doctors and pharmacies may charge a small fee for shipping, according to Mann.

Prevention remains the best defense against the virus and the Center for Disease Control recommendations remain the same:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based cleansers.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

• Avoid sick people.

If you do get sick, the CDC recommends you get checked out by a doctor, stay home from work or school and use “antivirals” to treat the illness.

More information on the flu is available via the CDC, the U.S. Dept. of Health, the state department of health or the Kitsap County Dept. of Health. Concerned citizens also can sign up for KCDEM’s Alert, Warning and Public Information Program.

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