Swine flu circulating in Southeast Alaska

Hospital notes increase in visits to emergency room

Posted: Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The swine flu scare has slowed, but the disease itself certainly hasn't.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

As of July 29, there have been 306 confirmed cases and one death caused by swine flu complications in Alaska. Of the confirmed cases, 21 came from Southeast. There were 43,771 confirmed or probable cases in the United States and five territories, and 302 deaths as of July 24.

Globally, the swine flu has spread so rapidly that the World Health Organization and other global health officials have stopped counting individual cases. July 24 was the last day the Center for Disease Control and Prevention provided numbers of individual and confirmed cases, though it will continue to report weekly the number of hospitalizations and deaths.

The numbers just aren't that meaningful any more.

"Confirmed cases do not really reflect what's going on in our community," said Jan Beauchamp, infection control officer for Bartlett Regional Hospital. "It's here in Juneau ... There's lots of it circulating in the community."

Most people who go into a hospital or clinic with the flu won't get tested for swine flu, or H1N1, because it's a lengthy process and doctors already know it's the flu and can treat it as such, Beauchamp said.

A recent hospital press release noted an increase in emergency room visits and calls about flu-like symptoms.

"It was a significant increase over a period of a week," Beauchamp said, noticeable not only at Bartlett but other clinics in town.

There's no way to predict the swine flu's spread, Beauchamp said.

"It could be this way for a while, or it could die out," she said. The peak won't be known until after it passes.

The best way to gauge the flu's impact will be through school absences once schools reopen and the chances of its spread increase dramatically, Beauchamp said.

"Most people do not require medical care or hospitalization," Beauchamp said. "And people should not feel the need to get it because it's a new flu. ... You should probably stay home and take care of yourself."

H1N1 acts just like regular flu and the same precautions apply.

If residents feel their case is significant enough to warrant medical attention, they should consult a doctor and call before visiting hospitals and clinics. Calling ahead lets the staff keep themselves and other patients safe.

Swine flu has been characterized by its rapid transmission rather than its severity. As of July 31, the CDC reported more than 5,500 hospitalization cases in the United States and territories, and 353 deaths. The regular flu kills about 36,000 people a year nationally.

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