Meanwhile …Clallam calls out reserves to fight flu

If you don't wash your hands frequently, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay home when you are sick, volunteers from the Clallam County Health Department will be coming around to remind you.

  • Wednesday, March 19, 2014 4:17pm
  • News

If you don’t wash your hands frequently, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze and stay home when you are sick, volunteers from the Clallam County Health Department will be coming around to remind you.

It’s part of an intensive illness prevention campaign that was started early as the "novel H1N1 virus" or "swine flu" continues to spread in advance of the regular wintertime flu season.

"We have a lot of research that shows 80 percent of infections can be prevented by disinfection and hand washing," said Christina Hurst, Clallam County’s public health programs manager.

"So we are urging people to take better respiratory precautions to avoid getting sick," she said.

The Medical Reserve Corps members – volunteers who are active and retired health care providers – are visiting businesses with information about pandemic planning and prevention, Hurst said.

"Any business can contact us for the packets. They tell you how to manage folks when they are sick and includes ‘cover your cough’ and ‘wash your hands’ signs for the office," she said.

Public meetings on swine flu prevention methods are planned for Tuesday, Aug. 25, for Sequim and Port Angeles and Wednesday, Aug. 26, for the county’s west end, Hurst said.

Health department officials also are educating schools so they will track their absentee rates and record reasons students miss school and why they are sick, Hurst said.

"If a student is missing school for a dental appointment, it’s not worth worrying about but if he or she has the flu, that’s good to know," she said.

"Novel H1N1" first was detected in people in the United States in April 2009.

It was called "swine flu" because many genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that occur in North American hogs.

Further study showed it is very different from the "swine flu." This flu strain has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in hogs in Europe and Asia and bird (avian) and

human genes.

Hurst said the new flu’s severity hasn’t changed but it is spreading widely.

By Aug. 7, 11 Washington residents had died from lab-confirmed swine flu and 137 had been hospitalized. Vancouver Island has 89 confirmed cases.

The usual high-risk

groups for seasonal flu are those older than 65 or younger than 5, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.

But those most susceptible to swine flu appear to be people younger than 25, so they want to focus the prevention campaign on children, Hurst said.

"It’s not getting more severe. These are a lot of the normal things we would be telling people to do anyway; we’re just being hypervigilant.

"It’s still very widespread, but people still are recovering. We want to monitor who is getting sick and what their other risk factors are, such as a chronic disease.

"Hand washing is important but it’s more important now," she said.

The World Health Organization has declared a Phase 6 pandemic, the highest alert level, indicating sustained swine flu outbreaks are occurring in several regions.

A pandemic is an outbreak of a new virus, versus an epidemic that is a widespread outbreak of a known virus.

The alert level is based on the amount of flu being reported worldwide, not on the seriousness of the infection.

Reach Brian Gawley at bgawley@sequimgazette.com.

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