As the swine flu virus approaches, Schoharie County resembles the rest of the country––not ready for it.
But while they wait for more than the little vaccine they have, health officials are advising the public to do what they can to prevent spreading the virus.
“Some cases have been reported, so we know it’s out there,” said Katie Strack, head of the county Heath Department, which is lead agency fighting the virus.
Cobleskill Regional Hospital reported 21 cases of diagnosed flu this weekend compared to just one last weekend.
Ms. Strack expects that large doses of the vaccine won’t arrive till mid-November, as nationwide delays in production slow the distribution.
Ms. Strack said there’s enough vaccine for an upcoming clinic at Planned Parenthood, which would target pregnant women, who are among the most susceptible.
There aren’t enough doses, however, for other highly-susceptible populations––people under 25, caregivers for infants younger than six months and people with chronic illnesses such as asthma.
Assuming the vaccine arrives, Ms. Strack is working with Cobleskill Regional Hospital to schedule mid-November clinics at high schools, firehouses, SUNY Cobleskill and the Power Authority.
“In our case, if we have 100 doses, we’re not going to hold a clinic and have 1,000 people show up,” Ms. Strack said. “We don’t want an event like that.”
Dr. Roy Korn, medical director at Cobleskill Regional, said the hospital just last week received enough vaccine for health-care workers who want it.
Like Ms. Strack, he expected more of the vaccine to arrive within a month.
In the meantime, Dr. Korn advised people to heighten their health precautions: cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands frequently and use disinfectants.
While waiting for the vaccine, the Health Department has held education sessions for school superintendents, SUNY Cobleskill, health-care providers and others, Ms. Strack said.
Dr. Korn said that swine flu isn’t much different than seasonal flu, which is also expected to arrive soon.
“Fever, chills, muscle aches, sore throats, upset stomach, coughs,” Dr. Korn said, listing the symptoms.
“But the young have less protection, so they’re more susceptible, and with some it will be more severe. This is a serious event.”
Flu cases at the hospital support Dr. Korn. Of the 21 cases diagnosed this weekend, only one was over age 25. One was 24, and the rest were 16 or younger.
The virus is apparently genetically related to a similar strain that appeared 40 or 50 years ago. Therefore, people over 50 probably aren’t as susceptible because they may have been exposed to the earlier strain, Dr. Korn said.
Dr. Joseph Luz of Bassett Healthcare-Schoharie agreed, adding that it’s important for those most susceptible to get the vaccine when it arrives.
“It’s probably not more contagious than seasonal flu,” Dr. Luz said, “but susceptibility is a little higher because such a large segment of the population hasn’t been exposed to it.”
As evidence, Dr. Luz pointed to Worcester Central School, which closed for one day Thursday because of flu-like symptoms. (See related story.)
Dr. Luz’ additional concern is that the flu will arrive before the vaccine does. A late vaccine won’t help those who have the flu.
“And once you get the vaccine, there’s two to three weeks before you’re immune,” Dr. Luz said. “There’s a lag time to immunity.”
Nonetheless, he urged the target groups to accept the vaccine. Older people with lung problems, diabetes and heart disease should, too, Dr. Luz said.
“I strongly advise health-care workers to get it,” he said. “I plan on getting it. It’s kind of an occupational necessity. I consider it a responsibility.”
As the time approaches for the vaccine to arrive, the Health Department has trained its medical reserve corps for the emergency. Also, the department will firm up times, dates and sites for clinics.
“We’re almost in a hurry-up-and-wait mode,” she said. “We’re dressed and ready for the party. We just don’t know where the party is.”