Politics & Government

Swine flu still present in state

OLYMPIA – Though the initial attention has died down, the swine flu pandemic continues, and health officials warn the public to stay on guard.

State Health Secretary Mary Selecky discussed the issue Thursday at a national meeting of state health officials that included President Barack Obama at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

She said at least 98 people from Washington state have been hospitalized and four people have died from the flu strain, also known as H1N1.

“At this point, we’re not counting every single case that might be diagnosed because we know the virus is here,” she said in a phone interview.

Officials are now preparing a vaccine that is expected to be ready by mid October, Selecky said. She said the federal government is funding the vaccine, and it will be targeted toward students, children in child care, adults with underlying illness and families with young children, among others.

The illness has mostly affected people under age 50, she said.

About 50 to 60 cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Thurston County, said Dr. Diana Yu, health officer with the county health department.

Four people are at Providence St. Peter’s Hospital with the illness, said Jennifer Reynolds Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

While school is out, Yu cautions parents that the infection may be spread at summer camp. There are also fears more people will get sick during the traditional flu season this winter. But it’s not a sure thing.

“We do not know that the fall season is going to be worse,” she said. “We do expect that it will surprise us.”

The disease has already surprised. It has caught on during the summer, not a normal time for a flu strain to spread.

At the same time, “We don’t know how much the virus is going to change,” she said.

There are three basic rules to help prevent the disease from spreading, she said: cover your cough, wash your hands and stay home when you’re sick.

“You are your best protection,” she said.

Yu strongly recommends everyone get the traditional seasonal flu shot when it is available this year. A vaccine is also being developed against swine flu, she said, but it’s unclear when it will be available.

She also said people shouldn’t go to the emergency room unless they have an actual emergency, because they may become exposed to the disease.

Swine flu symptoms include a fever, runny nose, sore throat and cough, she said. “Pretty much the whole body aches,” she said. Nausea and vomiting have also been associated with the strain, unlike other flu strains, she said.

The health department maintains a hot line that’s updated with the latest swine flu information: 360-709-3080. More information is also available on its Web page, www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/personalhealth/influenza/swineflu.html.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869