H1N1 expected to dramatically increase in northeast Arkansas


By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - H1N1 is here to stay, according to officials with the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management and Craighead County Health Office. Region 8 News learned Monday evening the Walnut Street Day Care in Jonesboro had 1 confirmed case of H1N1. With many schools across the Region 8 viewing area starting the year, Dr. Joe Stallings said he expects a dramatic increase in the number of H1N1 infections.

"This new flu is out there. It's kind of at a constant steady level. Now when we have schools that start, we expect there's going to be a peak, that there's going to be more flu," said Stallings.

Stallings and David Moore with the Craighead County Office of Emergency Management said 44 people have been diagnosed with H1N1 since April, when the World Health Organization issued a pandemic.

"There are a lot of stories going about swine flu and there's a lot of misinformation passing around and we want people to understand what the status is of Craighead County and also the status of our response to it," said Moore.

Moore arranged a news conference Tuesday morning for Dr. Stallings to address frequently asked questions regarding H1N1. Among the various talking points, Stallings said H1N1 is behaving like seasonal influenza.

Symptoms include, but are not limited to: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

"Four hundred seventy seven deaths in the United States as of now. The number of cases in Arkansas have been under reported probably because we are not testing for the swine flu or H1N1 flu now. We've had 1 death," said Stallings.

Stallings said the rate of death is very similar to that of the seasonal flu. In 2008, Stalling estimated the number of confirmed flu cases between 25-50 million. Of that number, 36,000 people died.

"Everyone is concerned. Teachers are concerned. Parents are concerned. School administrators are concerned. We always have the flu in the winter and that's our seasonal flu. We will have it again. We will have that seasonal flu, and sometimes with seasonal flu schools close because everybody is sick, or maybe as a preventive technique," said Stallings. "This is a pandemic. There is worldwide flu, but fortunately it's not a bad flu. It's not a killer flu. It's just a flu that we have, maybe even less than the seasonal flu."

According to the Arkansas Health Department, the state will have an estimated 2.8 million doses of H1N1 vaccine by mid-October into November. Stallings said the vaccine should be available at local health departments at no charge to the public. Five pharmaceutical companies have also been working on H1N1 vaccines.

"Most likely there has been a lot more cases in the county that were not tested. By this being a mild flu, thank goodness, I'm sure there's a lot of cases out there where they just weathered it out like a normal flu and that's what they should do," said Moore.

Moore said even though H1N1 isn't as deadly as previously expected, people need to be aware of the virus. Moore and Stallings said the Arkansas Health Department has been inundated with H1N1 samples for testing. The department can handle 3 tests at a time. Some days, the department was receiving 300 samples.

"As the health care community, we hear some flu where 6 months ago, we were very anxious and wanted to define it. Now we don't even send that test to the health department to be confirmed unless it's pregnant or unless somebody is in the hospital," said Stallings.

According to Stallings, people will be recommended to get 3 vaccines this year. Two vaccinations will be given for H1N1. One will be given for regular Influenza A.

"More than likely you're going to get 3 shots this year and you need them," said Stallings.

"For some reason, pregnant women are more susceptible to almost every viral infection. It's an uphill battle because people say, 'well, I don't want to take the shot because it might affect my baby,' but we want you to take the shot so you won't die from the flu. It's not going to affect the baby. It's a dead virus. The viruses that we give are dead viruses, so you can't get the flu from them," said Stallings. "My primary concern right now is that people are going to panic and be overly concerned when we see this increase in flu. It's probably going to come in the next week or two as schools come together. It's inevitable."

"People should be aware. Don't panic. Just be aware and take normal precautions," said Moore. "We're putting together some basic information from the CDC and some recommendations from the health officer to go out to the schools."

Region 8 News contacted Sandra Dixon with the Walnut Street Day Care. She said she told all parents in a written statement that H1N1 had been confirmed.

"The fact that you just say swine flu scares them to death because of all that they have heard," said Dixon. "My biggest concern is just the spread. I have several kids in every room and I'm afraid if one gets it, they're all going to get it and not just the kids, the teachers, and then their family."

Dixon said she contacted the health department immediately after notifying the parents.

"I know everybody is concerned about it and worried about it, but after talking with the health department yesterday and realizing it's not any worse than anything we deal with, that makes me feel better," said Dixon.

"They have assured me that we're not dealing with anything different than what we deal with every year," said Dixon.

"Please don't bring them back until you know that they're over it," said Dixon. "I mean I was the same way as most of the parents when I heard it I was like, 'oh no,' because of everything that you've heard."

To go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention web-site, click here.

"When they have the flu, they're feeling a little bad. They have a fever but that could be a symptom of almost any childhood virus. We finally figured out if we can get that group immunized, then we ought to be able to decrease the amount of flu on a seasonal basis," said Stallings.

Click here for more information on prevention and care.

"The ice storm was the major one to kick off the year. We've had a lot of flooding concerns in the area and now this H1N1 has been an ongoing project, but we feel certain it's going to escalate here in the next few months," said Moore.

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