State to use federal funds to prepare for flu season


POSTED: Saturday, July 11, 2009

State health officials anticipate federal grants totaling $1,478,835 to prepare for mass vaccinations for groups at high risk for the new swine flu.

Health officials are worried about the potential combination of H1N1 Influenza A (swine flu) with seasonal flu viruses this fall and winter, said Sarah Park, chief of the state Health Department's Communicable Disease Division.

Deaths and hospitalizations occur with seasonal flu, she said, “;and we have other strains of equal severity.”;

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed Hawaii yesterday as having 722 H1N1 cases for the week ended June 27 — 106 more than the previous week. The outbreak began here May 5 with three cases.

Park said July 24 is the application deadline for the new federal grants, but “;we've basically been assured as long as we send in a proposal, we'll get that funding.”;

It would probably be available late this month or early next month,”; she said.

Hawaii is eligible to receive $1,099,673 in Public Health Emergency Response grants and $379,162 in Hospital Preparedness Grants.

Toby Clairmont, director of emergency services for the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, said he plans to meet with the Health Department next week “;and develop a strategy to take the best advantage of the money.”;

“;Our preference is that it be toward looking at (helping) large physical offices and clinical practices,”; he said. “;We believe they are underserved right now.”;

Meanwhile, the association is holding a number of exercises to prepare for the pandemic, he said.

“;We want to be ahead of what may happen with seasonal flu this fall.”;

Park said the funding is “;to increase our epidemiological capacity for investigations and our laboratory capacity for increasing diagnostics.”;

She said a combination of methods might be used for mass vaccinations.

“;We are participating in national conference calls with other states, strategizing how to perform mass vaccinations here.”;

Federal guidelines were posted for vaccination priorities for the H1N1 virus, but they might be changed because of the data, which shows the virus largely tends to affect school-age kids and people with underlying medical disorders, she said.

Those groups would likely be the primary targets for mass vaccination initially, she said.

Hawaii has had one death associated with swine flu: an Oahu woman with underlying medical conditions. Another woman was hospitalized with swine flu on Oahu and released early last week.

The symptoms of H1N1 are as severe as those with seasonal flu, Park said.

“;If you talk to folks who've had it and seasonal flu, descriptions are similar.”;

They include high fever, body aches and inability to get out of bed for a few days, she said.

“;Some had a nasty, lingering cough.”;

She said kids tend to bounce back faster, “;but they tend to shed the virus longer,”; even if they seem to be better.

Hawaii was the first state to have a mass vaccination campaign in the schools for seasonal flu and will do it again this fall for the third year, Park said.

She hopes to maintain or improve the 43 percent participation rate among kids ages 5 to 13 to reduce the prevalence of seasonal flu.

Park urges all residents to protect themselves, their families and co-workers from flu viruses by washing their hands often, covering a cough or sneeze and staying home if they are sick.

Investigations found a number of people medicating themselves to mask symptoms and go to work or school, she said.

“;We understand the economic times do not help at all, but if you're sick, it's best to stay home for your own health and everyone else's health. If people don't comply with that, we will have a very difficult time controlling the outbreak.

“;There is a lot of concern, especially where traditional virus strains are circulating quite strongly, especially on the mainland, and when that happens, we know that comes here.”;