I want to thank Thurston County residents for their patience as we respond to the H1N1 flu outbreak. This unparalleled illness, also called the swine flu, has been declared a worldwide pandemic. The Thurston County Public Health and Social Services Department is working with all of our partners — federal, state and local — to lessen the effects of the outbreak. All of us need to work together as we navigate our way through this situation in the months to come.
A major challenge has been the slow arrival of H1N1 vaccine to our community. Demand for immunization has been strong but the arrival of vaccine has been much slower than had been anticipated.
The good news is that we have been able to supply local doctors and clinics with thousands of doses to help those in our community who are the most at risk for severe illness due to influenza. Those groups include pregnant women, young children and those who have an unrelated illness that would put them at high risk should they contract the H1N1 flu.
We expect to receive more vaccine over the next few months, and have plans that will make vaccines generally available to the public.
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In our county, we have relied on a proven delivery system, which makes vaccines available to local medical providers who then offer the vaccines to identified target groups. This system has been used successfully in the past. We have chosen not to do large public vaccination clinics early because of the limited amount of vaccines available each week.
The Health Department and local jurisdictions and agencies started working in earnest on H1N1 issues in the spring, when the illnesses began. However, we have been preparing for pandemics since 1998.
As with any emergency preparedness plan, we work on refining the response as a situation unfolds. As a result, fire department, law enforcement, and emergency response officials throughout the county have stepped up to run the incident command system for this event. That allows public health officials, medical providers, hospitals and other partners to concentrate on their areas of expertise.
As we work on H1N1 issues, there are some things all of us can do to protect against the flu:
• Stay home when you have the flu and do not return to work or school until you have been without a fever for 24 hours.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it and clean your hands. Cough into your elbow if a tissue is not available.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are spread this way.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people; don’t share drinking glasses, cigarettes or eating utensils.
• When available, get a vaccination against the seasonal and also the H1N1 flu.
Again, thanks for your patience during a challenging situation that affects all of us. For more information, please visit the Thurston County Health Department Web site at www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/personalhealth/influenza/swineflu.html or call the Thurston County flu hot line at 360-709-3080.
Sherri McDonald is director of Thurston County Public Health and Social Services.