Health officials closely watch swine flu numbers

The increase in Mississippi swine flu deaths doesn’t mean the swine flu is becoming more dangerous.
Two deaths, including that of a Tippah County woman, were reported this week. They brought the state’s total deaths to five with 839 laboratory confirmed cases, and came less than a month before flu vaccines become available.
The lab-confirmed cases represent the geographic spread of the novel H1N1 flu virus to 77 of the state’s 82 counties, not the actual number of people sick with the flu.
“Is it concerning? Yes. Are we going to watch it closely? Yes. But it’s not necessarily more severe,” said Dr. Paul Byers, a state Department of Health epidemiologist who also serves as interim health officer for District 2, which includes Northeast Mississippi.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control says the severity of swine flu remains similar to seasonal flu. But more people are sick with flu illness than normal for this time of year.
“The more widespread, the more illness, regrettably, the more likely there will be more deaths,” Byers said, “even if we’re talking about seasonal flu.”
The numbers are still so small that it’s hard to tell if Mississippi is seeing an emergence of a more viral swine flu.
For the moment, the best way for people to protect themselves and others against the swine flu is to frequently and thoroughly wash their hands, cover their coughs and stay home when sick, Byers said.
Flu vaccines for both swine flu and seasonal flu are on the way.
Seasonal flu vaccine should be widely available in early October without any restrictions. Small amounts of swine flu vaccine may be available earlier in the month.
The swine flu vaccine is produced exactly the same way as seasonal flu.
“People who can tolerate a seasonal flu vaccine should have no trouble,” Byers said.
Swine flu vaccine will be prioritized for those at highest risk – children and young adults under 25, pregnant women, health care workers, caregivers for infants and people under 65 with existing health conditions that put them at greater risk.
Even people who have already been sick with the flu should strongly consider getting both shots if it is appropriate, Byers said.
There seems to be a small amount of seasonal flu virus currently circulating, and without laboratory confirmation of the subtype, people can’t be sure which flu bug they had, Byers said.
The seasonal flu and swine flu shots protect against different strains of the flu and do not overlap.

Contact Michaela Gibson Morris at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@djournal.com.

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal