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Swine Flu Hitting Deschutes Hard 

The swine flu situation in Deschutes County is more serious than the local news media so far have reported, judging by an e-mail County Communicable Disease Manager Shannon Dames sent to health care professionals today.

Under the subject line “H1N1 Cases are way up!” Dames’s e-mail states:

“I am sure this is not news to you, given what you are seeing in your own clinics, but to be sure we are all in the loop:

  • Schools are seeing higher absentee rates - some up to 25%
  • The Bend and Redmond emergency rooms are packed - 44 ILI [influenza-like illness] admissions in two days early this week, and 22 positive results [for H1N1 flu] from the State lab.
  • We are getting reports that staffing [has] become a concern at some of our medical locations with people having to leave due to onset of ILI.”

In answer to the question of “when will we see more vaccine,” Dames advises doctors: “Each week we get a small supply, we should be seeing saturation of our highest priority groups in about 4-6 weeks based on our best conservative guesses, which means you will have more supply for your patient population then.  Probably good to tell your patients that keep clogging up phone lines to wait a month and call back then.”

But after a month, according to the e-mail, the worst of the current wave of swine flu should be over.

“We fully expect that there will be 3 waves to this pandemic, each about 6 weeks long,” Dames writes. “This would be the second wave (which is historically the worst) and we should be about 2-3 weeks in.  All this [is] to say we should be close to a climax very soon, if not already, and should be on our way to recovery in the second wave.  We will then have a little breather between waves (as we continue rushing to get people vaccinated), and will be ready for wave three either late 2009 or early 2010.”

The antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza can ease flu symptoms if taken early, but they’re rather hard to get too, according to Dames. “We are hearing that it can take a few phone calls to find antiviral, but they are out there, and the locations that have them are changing more frequently than we can track,” she wrote.

Dames told The Eye that her department is “hoping to saturate the community with vaccination right near the end of Wave 2,” so relatively few people will remain unvaccinated when Wave 3 arrives.

But in the meantime, while Wave 2 is still underway, a lot of people in Deschutes County are not going to be able to get vaccinated. Health care professionals who are often exposed to sick people – for example, emergency room personnel – are at the top of the priority list, and there’s very little vaccine left over for anybody else.

There’s some H1N1 vaccine out there, Dames said, but getting hold of it is a crap shoot: “Some people are getting their hands on that vaccine, and it is more luck than strategy.”

Dames said her office will put out a press release to let people know as soon as enough vaccine becomes available for the general population.

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