State fights fall flu season

Plans in place to vaccinate all

Staff WriterJuly 18, 2009 

— The state Division of Public Health says it will have enough vaccine for the H1N1 influenza for everybody in North Carolina by the time the fall flu season arrives.

With money from the federal government, the state hopes to vaccinate all 9 million residents against H1N1, or swine flu, beginning in mid-October. The vaccinations will be voluntary, but the state will have enough doses for everyone. The vaccine should be ready by Oct. 15, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The vaccine would be given via two injections at different times. Because of H1N1's disproportionate affect on young people, particularly between the ages of 5 and 24, the state plans to partner with schools and day-care centers to administer the vaccine.

The state also will benefit from a $7.5 million federal grant to prepare in case of an outbreak. Of that amount, $5.5 million will be disbursed directly to local health departments, with the remainder being used to purchase supplies and cover administrative costs.

"We are going to plan [for the] worst case," said Doug Hoell, the state's Emergency Management Director. "That is always the way that we do business."

There have been 395 confirmed cases of H1N1 in North Carolina. Four people have died of the disease as of July 15.

State officials said Friday that the confirmed number of cases is far below the actual number because the Division of Public Health has stopped testing specifically for H1N1 and also because many people with symptoms have not sought treatment.

Julie Casani, the division's director of public health preparedness and response, warned that a second wave of H1N1 was expected around September.

That's simply an educated guess, as public health officials have no real way of knowing when H1N1 could return to North Carolina in large numbers.

The disease is being monitored closely in the Southern Hemisphere, which is experiencing its winter season now, and state officials said that whenever H1N1 returns to the United States, it would likely remain in the country for more than just one flu season.

"H1N1 is here to stay," Casani said. "It is now, for all intents and purposes, an endemic illness."

gabe.starosta@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4520

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