AMedford infectious disease specialist Friday encouraged all pregnant women to get immunized against the H1N1 influenza virus and warned that this flu may be much more deadly than its seasonal cousins.
Pregnant women account for a disproportionate number of cases of flu requiring hospitalization, Dr. Ruth Rabinovitch told the Medford Rogue Rotary Club. They represent about 1 percent of the population, but have accounted for 5 to 9 percent of those who have been hospitalized.
Jackson County is organizing a local hot line to answer questions about the H1N1 influenza virus, but the office will not be up and running before Monday or Tuesday, said Chad Petersen, the county's information officer in the department of human services. A state flu hot line is available at 1-800-978-3040 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The federal flu Web site, www.flu.gov/evaluation, has a series of simple yes/no questions that will help determine whether someone should seek medical attention.
"Every pregnant woman should get the vaccine," she said.
Rabinovitch said Southern Oregon has more cases of influenza than other parts of the state.
"We can't just look and see what Portland is doing because they don't have much (flu) yet," she said.
Data compiled by the state Department of Human Services indicates that 84 people have been hospitalized with the H1N1 virus. Jackson County has the highest number (17) of hospitalizations, followed by Washington County (15) Multnomah (13) and Lane (11).
Proportionally, that puts Jackson County far ahead in reported cases. Jackson County has about 205,000 residents, compared with 519,000 in Washington County; 717,000 in Multnomah; and 345,000 in Lane.
A woman died of flu-like illness Wednesday at Three Rivers Community Hospital, according to reports in the Grants Pass Daily Courier.
Test results will not be available before Monday, but she would be the first confirmed H1N1 death in Josephine County.
Rabinovitch said some people who were living in 1957 have a degree of immunity to the present strain of H1N1 because of an outbreak of a similar virus then, but only about 30 percent of those individuals seem to have antibodies for the present virus.
She said Rogue Valley Medical Center has canceled some elective surgeries to make more beds in its intensive care unit available for possible flu patients.
She noted that people with chronic medical conditions are more vulnerable to the virus, along with those who are extremely overweight. She said half to two-thirds of all the children who have been hospitalized with H1N1 have other medical disorders.
Rabinovitch told the Rotarians that ordinary seasonal flu is responsible for about 36,000 deaths per year in the United States, but that the H1N1 virus could kill 10 times as many people.
She said virus particles can live for as long as 48 hours on smooth hard surfaces, and eight to 12 hours on soft surfaces such as cloth. People are contagious for a day before they show symptoms, and remain contagious for five to seven days. When they cough, they spread virus on droplets of water.
She encouraged people to protect themselves by frequently washing their hands, and keeping hands away from the mouth, eyes and nose, where moist membranes offer an easy entry for virus particles.
She encouraged people to get immunized as the vaccine becomes available.
"We feel the benefits will outweigh the risks," she said.
Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.