Swine flu holds lessons for public health experts


POSTED: Thursday, May 06, 2010

The so-called “;novel”; swine flu identified in Hawaii on May 5 last year quickly lost its novelty as it became the islands' dominant seasonal flu, triggering a state, federal and private collaboration to protect public health.

“;It's hard to imagine it's been a year since H1N1 was first discovered in the United States and identified in Hawaii,”; Dr. Chiyome Fukino, state health director, said at a news conference yesterday marking the anniversary.

Joining her were Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist, and Dr. Tai-Ho Chen, quarantine medical officer in Hawaii for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They thanked the many participants in the vaccination drive.

Considering Hawaii is a small island state with geographical and other limitations, Park said, “;I think we did pretty well and we should be pretty proud of that fact.”;

Chen commended the state Department of Health and its partners for a “;tremendous effort,”; reflected in the high vaccination rates.

The World Health Organization declared H1N1 a pandemic—the first in more than 40 years—on June 11 last year and President Barack Obama declared it a national emergency Oct. 25. The virus was first discovered in April 2009 in Veracruz, Mexico.

The first H1N1 patients documented in Hawaii were a husband and wife who returned from mainland travel, and an unrelated child. Eleven Oahu residents and two on the Big Island died of complications with the virus.

Hawaii led the country with 55 percent of the population getting seasonal flu vaccine, compared with 40 percent nationally.

For H1N1 vaccinations, it ranked sixth in the nation for addressing high-risk groups and eighth overall, with a total of 312,711 H1N1 vaccinations. Rhode Island was the top state in that area.

Fukino attributed Hawaii's “;very successful flu season”; to strong partnerships with health care providers, hospitals, health centers, private laboratories and other state agencies. Hawaii's Stop Flu at School campaign, conducted in public and private schools by the Health and Education departments, also gave the state a head start on vaccinations.

More than 71,000 students and 9,700 teachers and staff were vaccinated for seasonal flu; then the schools held H1N1 clinics. The total cost, mostly for the school clinics and covered with federal funds, was about $1.8 million, Park said.

Park pointed out that the regular seasonal vaccine in the fall will have an H1N1 component and “;everyone should get revaccinated.”; Meanwhile, she urged parents of children under age 10 who've had one H1N1 shot to get a second for maximum protection.