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State receives $2.1M to ready swine flu fight


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POSTED: Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The state Health Department has received $2.1 million in federal money to plan for “;an expected resurgence”; of novel H1N1 influenza, or swine flu, this fall, and President Barack Obama is urging Americans to take steps to prevent infection.

“;I don't want anybody to be alarmed, but I do want everyone to be prepared,”; Obama said yesterday after a briefing on the nation's preparedness for swine flu by senior U.S. health and homeland security officials, the Associated Press reported.

Six Hawaii deaths have been related to swine flu since the outbreak here May 5. All had underlying medical conditions, the Health Department said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded Public Health Emergency Response grants to all states to prepare for an expected surge in cases this fall, and the department said it is speeding up planning for wide-scale vaccinations and other response measures.

A White House panel of experts suggested up to half the U.S. population could catch swine flu during a pandemic.

“;Given the many unknowns we are facing with novel H1N1 this fall, our ability to plan and rapidly implement activities related to vaccine distribution and dispensing is critical,”; state Health Director Chiyome Fukino said in a news release. “;These federal funds will help us to continue building our response capabilities on a very tight time line.”;

State epidemiologist Sarah Park, chief of the Disease Outbreak Control Division, said state laboratory and epidemiological investigative teams “;have been severely overextended”; since the swine flu emerged.

Park said the additional support in federal funding “;will be invaluable.”;

Obama and Fukino delivered the same message, asking people to take “;commonsense precautions”; to reduce risk of infection, such as practicing good health and hygiene habits, getting vaccinated, washing hands often and staying home if sick.

“;I know it sounds simple, but it's important and it works,”; Obama said.

The first H1N1 vaccine is expected about mid-October, and the health agency is working with the Department of Education on plans for free, voluntary school-based vaccination clinics after the Stop Flu at School program is completed for seasonal flu.

Seasonal flu clinics in schools will be moved up, starting early next month, to prepare for when the vaccine arrives, because children are high priority for immunization.

Park said major challenges will be the doubled workload and difficulties “;to clearly distinguish for parents between season flu vaccination and 2009 H1N1 vaccination.”;

However, she said, “;The effort is critical to ensure that as many children as possible receive both vaccinations this year and are protected.”; The department has established a registration process for primary care physicians to speed delivery of the vaccine. It also is working with state Civil Defense and public and private partners to protect vulnerable populations.

High-risk groups identified by the CDC for immunizations include pregnant women, those in contact with children younger than 6 months, health care and emergency medical services personnel, children and young adults six months to 24 years of age and people 25 through 64 with medical conditions putting them at high risk for complications from influenza.

For information on swine flu, see www.hawaii.gov/health or call 211.