H1N1 flu likely to hit the Rogue Valley

Local health officials have medicine standing by and offer prevention tips

With 17 confirmed cases of swine flu now crisscrossing five counties in northern and central Oregon, Jackson County health officials say the Rogue Valley is likely to see its first case before too long.

"I would expect it is going to come to the valley," said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County's medical officer, during a Monday afternoon press briefing.

The goal will be to reduce the spread and severity of the illness, he said.

"We have medication stockpiled," Shames said, adding county health care providers and school officials are doing a good job of staying on top of the latest information.

As of 4 p.m. Monday, Oregon public health officials had confirmed 17 cases of H1N1 influenza virus in five counties. Another five cases listed as probable will likely be verified as positive for the virus, Shames said.

"I expect they will be confirmed," he said.

Lane, Multnomah, Polk, Umatilla and Washington counties all have confirmed cases. Of the 22 total confirmed and probable cases, seven are children, four are teens and 11 are adults. Ten are males and 12 are females.

Two people have been hospitalized from the effects of the swine flu. One was a child with other health concerns, who has since been released. The other is a teenage female in the intensive care unit who is recovering. In the rest of the cases, the people are recovering or have recovered at home, state health care officials said in a Portland press conference.

Shames said there are 280 cases of swine flu in the United States, with one death reported. Considering the seasonal influenza is known to kill 36,000 people each year, the H1N1 influenza, at this point, is a "relatively mild illness," Shames said.

What remains unknown, he said, is whether the virus will mutate over time. Will it settle down over the summer? Or will it return as a more virulent disease in the fall?

No one has developed antibodies to this strain of flu, Shames said. But everyone can participate in being aggressive about prevention, he stressed. Practice frequent hand-washing and cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the crook of your arm, not in your hand. And stay home if you are ill, Shames said.

Jackson and Josephine county health officials met with local school superintendents and higher education staff members earlier Monday to discuss strategies for possible school closures should swine flu cases surface. Shames presented the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and from the Oregon Public Health Division.

County public health officials, school officials and the state public health officer would make the decision whether to close local schools. The state public health officer would determine whether statewide school closures were necessary, and would communicate that recommendation to the state superintendent of schools. Closures would depend on the number of students infected and who they may have come in contact with, Shames said.

"It would depend on who's sick and how sick they are," said Shames, adding that the county is directing part of the influenza informational campaign toward employers.

Do not penalize infected employees so they can stay home and not infect others, Shames said.

The day after Oregon identified its first likely case of swine flu, Jackson County activated an emergency hotline to provide information about the virus and how to avoid it. The hotline number is 774-3880. A state hotline, in English and Spanish, also is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1-800-978-3040.

Statewide, classes were canceled in the 6,200-student Forest Grove School District as well as for the 3,000 students in the Central School District's schools in Monmouth and Independence.

Classes resumed Monday in the Willamina School District in Yamhill County after crews sanitized classrooms there. Meanwhile, the North Bend School District asked its students to return after a test on a student thought to have the flu came back negative.

Western Oregon University planned to reopen today. It closed on Friday after a WOU student was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.


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