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County gearing up to fight swine flu

September 03, 2009
NEWPORT — When dealing with the upcoming flu season, the three basic rules are still being recommended:

1. Wash your hands frequently.

2. Sneeze or cough into your elbow.

3. Stay home if you are sick.

Information on H1N1 swine flu is updated on a regular basis and flu.gov and CDC.gov have been recommended by health officials as the sites to keep abreast on flu details.

In this area, Jessica R. Rosman, Greater Sullivan County Public Network Coordinator, has been working with state and local officials as the flu season nears.

The Greater Sullivan County Region includes Acworth, Charlestown, Claremont, Croydon, Goshen, Langdon, Lempster, Newport, Springfield, Sunapee and Unity in Sullivan County and New London, Newbury, Sutton and Wilmot in Merrimack County.

Rosman has been laying the groundwork to deal with a potential flu outbreak in the upcoming months. That includes making plans for clinics where flu shots will be administered.

Communicating very clear facts to the public and keeping the flow of information well are two of the most important functions with which Rosman will be dealing.

Neil Twitchell, Director of the Division of Public Health Services state division with 20 fire, police and school officials attending a meeting in Newport last month, shared much of the initial information available.

"We can't predict the ratio of what will be seasonal or N1H1 flu," Twitchell told the group. One thing is certain, however, the state will not recommend school closures, he said.

He also reminded officials to pay attention to updated flu information. "It is continually changing," he said.

Rosman said New Hampshire health officials are consistently following the guidelines from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. That information is then passed on to regional groups.

Flu vaccine for H1N1 is still in the testing stage. It is expected to be available in mid to late October once all clinical trials are completed and approved, according to Twitchell.

The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that vaccination efforts initially focus on five target groups. They include vaccination for pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than six months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, persons between the ages of six months through 24 years, and people ages 25 through 64 years who are at a higher risk for novel H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Once the demand for vaccine for the prioritized groups has been met at the local level, programs and providers should also begin vaccinating everyone from 25 through 64 years of age, according to the CDC.

Current studies indicate that the risk for infection among persons age 65 or older is less than the risk for younger groups. However, once vaccine demand among younger groups has been met, programs and providers should offer vaccinations to people 65 or older, according to a report from the CDC.

Twitchell said three primary systems would be involved with flu shots. They include the primary health care system and pre-natal providers; employer-based occupational health through the workplace and public clinics primarily for young adults 18 to 24-years-old.

Rosman said the public health network might organize clinics to be held at Colby-Sawyer College or school gymnasiums. Dates and locations have not been decided upon, she said.

Clinics will be offered at no charge for the vaccine the state receives from the national stockpile, once final approval for the vaccine has been received.

The State of New Hampshire has received federal funds to be distributed to every public health region in the state of which there are 15. Funding will allow each region to hire additional staff to open clinics.

Each region will also be refining public health preparedness plans in case the virus affects a lot of people, necessitating the opening of acute care centers to support overwhelmed hospitals.

Funding for the Greater Sullivan County Region has already been granted by the state. It will be available in three phases. Phase 1 and 2 will help with regional capacity to hold mass vaccination clinics. If a public health emergency has to be declared, the region will be able to apply for reimbursement under Phase 3.

Rosman said it is recommended that people absolutely get their regular flu shots.

According to information published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it will not be known until late summer or early fall if two doses of the H1N1 vaccine will have to be administered.

Clinical trials are also exploring whether seasonal vaccine and novel H1N1 vaccine can be administered at the same time.

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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