Swine Flue vaccine on its way

Published 1:23 pm Thursday, October 1, 2009

Any H1N1 swine flu vaccine acquired by the State of Mississippi will first go to targeted groups, like school children, before being available to the general public, said Dr. Robert Travnicek, district state health officer, who is over the six county South Mississippi area, which includes Pearl River County.

“We are in a pandemic, a type of which we have not seen for 50 years. Things could change very quickly. The feds have control of the vaccine and once all priority groups have been covered, then it will be released to the general public and you can get the vaccine at the public health office or other outlets, like your family physician,” he said, speaking from his district office in Gulfport.

The term pandemic means it is worldwide.

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Health officials expect the swine flu vaccine to be available beginning about mid-October.

State Epidemiologist Mary Currier said that the State Health Dept. will begin ordering this week nasal spray vaccine for the H1N1 virus and then will shortly place another order for the vaccine that is injected by needle. The state’s county health departments will administer the vaccine by injection only, officials said.

Currier said the state will receive initially about 30,000 nasal spray doses.

Health officials outlined certain high risk groups that should get the dose as a priority. That includes pregnant women, children under two, persons between the ages of six months and 24 years of age and persons up to 64 who have health problems that could cause them complications if they contract the virus.

Eventually, the swine flu vaccine will be available at health departments statewide and doctors’ offices. However, school children are a top priority, officials added.

About 450 doctors’ offices statewide filled out on-line forms to get the dosages and the state health department will also deliver the vaccine to county health departments.

Officials said the public will be informed about when and where they can get the vaccinations.

Health officials said this week that there were 919 cases of H1N1, or swine flu, in Mississippi. However, that was an official count by state health officials in Jackson. Medical authorities said the figure was much higher. They said most flu now diagnosed in the state is swine flu.

The State Health Dept. listed the following counts for the lower six southern Mississippi counties:

Harrison 90, Jackson 36, Hancock 14, George 6, Pearl River 5 and Stone 2. However, that was cases counted by the health department that were actually verified through a specific test for the swine flu virus. Officials said the count is actually much higher.

Regular flu shots are available in Pearl River County at Winn-Dixie, 801 Hwy. 11 South, Picayune, and at both Picayune Walgreens, at U.S. 11 North and 43 North, and 1505 Miss. Hwy. 43 South. Walgreens offers shots from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and at doctors’ offices throughout the county.

A Winn-Dixie spokesman last week said that store was overwhelmed by residents seeking the regular seasonal flu shot early.

Health officials urged residents to get the regular seasonal flu shot early so they would be prepared to get the swine flu shot when it becomes available. Right now officials say the swine flu shot should be available by mid-October.

Meanwhile, deaths last week from swine flu in Mississippi hit seven with the death of a Jones County resident. It was the second person to die of the illness in Jones County.

Officials say symptoms of the swine flu mimic those of regular seasonal flu: Fever, respiratory symptoms and body aches.

State Health Dept. officials, who monitor the flu statewide, said that it is widespread all across Mississippi. However, although officials say most flu now diagnosed is probably swine flu, it takes a laboratory test to actually confirm the presence of the new virus.

The State Health Dept. only reports confirmed cases of the disease, although it admits there are probably much more cases that are not actually officially diagnosed.

Officials said pregnant women, children younger than five and anyone with chronic heart or lung problems, including asthma, should be especially careful if they contract the flu, and probably should see a doctor.

Symptoms can be fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

Officials said all forms of influenza are contagious and asked that people who are sick stay home and do not return to work or school or make contact with other people for a full 24 hours after symptoms abate.

Officials said swine flu, like regular seasonal flu, responds well to antiviral medication, which should be taken at the onset of symptoms. It can reduce the severity and duration of the illness, officials added.

State Health Dept. officials said that parents in medicating the flu should not use aspirin for kids under 18 years old. They said aspirin with viral infections can cause Reye’s syndrome, a life-threatening illness.

Officials said check labels carefully and do not use products that contain aspirin. For fever in those 18 and younger, a non-aspirin product, such as Tylenol, is recommended.

To protect yourself against catching the flu, officials said to wash your hands with soap and water often, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth to prevent the spread of germs, avoid close contact with those who are ill and cover you nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze.

If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into the bend of your arm. Throw the tissue in the trash can after use, officials said.

Picayune’s Dr. James M. Riser of Riser Medical Associates said that it is “highly unlikely” that a person could both contract swine flu and the seasonal flu simultaneously. “It is theoretically possible but highly unlikely,” he said.

Riser said that his office has an application in with the State Health Dept. for 1,200 doses of the swine flu vaccine and that state officials are supposed to make a decision on Oct. 8 about who and where the dosages will be distributed.

Riser added that he is still treating cases of the flu and it seems to have stabilized, however. He said the swine flu is not as virulent as they once thought it was but that persons who have respiratory problems should treat it seriously and see a doctor if they feel the on-set of symptoms.

He said that the swine flu is now technically known as the “2009 Influenza A H1N1.” He added, “They dropped the novel term.”

Riser said most cases can be treated without going to the doctor with a lot of fluids and Tylenol, but he warned that persons who have respiratory problems and trouble breathing should see a doctor immediately because it could develop into pneumonia.

He said he discourages taking aspirin with the flu.

He said that residents could be dealing with the swine flu for several years as it circles the globe again. He said it takes about a year for it to travel around the world. He said health officials greatest fear is that it might morph into a different form of flu.