• State health officials pare back flu response

    They say the illness is acting increasingly like a typical virus
  • The swine flu virus has been behaving more like an ordinary seasonal human influenza, and state public health officials said Tuesday they are scaling back their response to it.
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  • The swine flu virus has been behaving more like an ordinary seasonal human influenza, and state public health officials said Tuesday they are scaling back their response to it.
    In a media briefing, Dr. Mel Kohn of the Oregon Department of Human Services said the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has dropped its recommendation to close schools where students fall ill with flu-like symptoms. Students and teachers who are ill should stay home, Kohn said, and people should wash their hands frequently and contain their coughs to prevent the virus from spreading.
    The H1N1 virus has spread to 38 states, and 403 cases have been confirmed, according to data on the CDC Web site. Kohn said there were 21 confirmed cases in Oregon as of Tuesday, including five in Lane County, seven in Multnomah, five in Polk, two in Umatilla and two in Washington. Of those, six are children, five teens and 10 adults. Only one is currently hospitalized, and is recovering.
    More cases are likely to be confirmed as other samples are tested, he said. Of the Oregon specimens that tested positive for some kind of type A influenza, 30 percent were found to be H1N1.
    He said the H1N1 virus likely will fade during the warm season, but it will return in the fall, and no one knows whether it will be stronger, weaker, or about the same.
    "We need to prepare for all those eventualities," Kohn said.
    Oregon's flu hotline, 1-800-978-3040, is still answering questions about the virus in English and Spanish. Online information is available at www.flu.oregon.gov. Questions can be e-mailed to flu.help@state.or.us.
    Jackson County's flu hotline is no longer staffed by volunteers, but the number, 774-3880, now rings through to communicable disease nurses in the county health department who can answer questions about the virus.
    Kohn said there's still reason for concern about the new virus, because even the normal seasonal influenza is an illness that strikes about 10 percent of the population and kills 30,000 Americans per year. A new strain like H1N1 could infect more people, and Kohn encouraged businesses to plan for how they would operate if 20 or 30 percent of their staff were home sick or taking care of their sick children.
    He said researchers are working on a vaccine against the H1N1 virus, but it's unlikely to be ready as soon as the ordinary influenza vaccine, which is usually produced by September. A vaccine for H1N1 won't be available until November or December at the earliest.
    When the virus surfaced in Mexico late in April, public health officials were concerned that it might be deadly because it was a new strain, and humans had no immunity to it.
    Answering a reporter's question about whether the public health community overreacted to the virus, Kohn said the level of response, which included closing some schools and aggressively tracking the spread of infection, was entirely appropriate, given the unknown nature of the virus.
    "We didn't know where this was going to go," Kohn said to the reporter. "Had it gone bad, you would be asking me exactly the opposite question."
    Kohn said public health officials and epidemiologists learned "all kinds of lessons" from this outbreak that will help them prepare for the next emergency.
    "There will be a next time," he said, "whether it's H1N1 or some other kind of health crisis."
    Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.
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