Officials ready to give H1N1 vaccine

Published 7:14 am Monday, October 26, 2009

As presumed H1N1 cases continue in the southeastern Minnesota area, local health officials are preparing to disperse the H1N1 vaccine.

The nasal vaccine has been given to health care workers, and an injection is also being given for children with preexisting health concerns. Health officials are very selective concerning who will receive the vaccine, which was developed by the federal Centers for Disease Control.

“Of course the government owns this vaccine. They manufacture it. They own it. They tell us what we can do with it,” said Tammy Williams, infection preventionist at Albert Lea Medical Center.

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ALMC infection preventionist Patty Abbott said medical officials are considering contacting certain patients about receiving the H1N1 vaccine.

Abbott and Williams said the medical center is receiving frequent calls concerning the H1N1 vaccine. On Oct. 15, a Freeborn County infant boy died in Rochester from heart and lung complications made worse by the H1N1 influenza. A 6-year-old Owatonna child sick with the H1N1 virus died in Rochester after “experiencing respiratory distress,” according to the Owatonna People’s Press. In Martin County, a woman in her early 60s with the H1N1 virus perished. The state reported all three had underlying medical complications.

So far, there have been 10 Minnesota deaths related to the H1N1 flu pandemic. There have been four in Iowa.

The Austin Medical Center’s H1N1 information line — 507-434-1188 — is now in place.

Another shipment of the seasonal flu vaccine was expected to arrive at the medical center on Thursday. Shot clinics will likely be scheduled soon for the additional seasonal flu shipments.

Even though Albert Lea Medical Center is not testing for H1N1, there have been many presumed cases in Albert Lea. Tests don’t confirm cases as H1N1, they only determine if a case is Influenza A or B.

Most cases are presumed to be H1N1 because the seasonal flu season typically begins in December and runs through March.

While the medical center is still holding that people with flu like symptoms should stay home and not seek treatment, a high number of people are calling with concerns.

“We have a huge backup on phone calls, but yes, we are asking people to call,” Abbott said.

Despite the backup, Williams said ALMC doesn’t want to discourage people from calling if they’re sick to check on their symptoms and see if further treatment is required. This is especially true for parents of children with existing health concerns.

People have been admitted to the hospital with presumed H1N1 cases, including a few people who are currently receiving treatment. These patients can be treated with antiviral medication.

“We’re treating quite a few on an outpatient basis as well – treating a lot more than we’re testing,” Abbott said.

Abbott said the average age of those hospitalized in Minnesota is age 12, but there have been younger people treated in Albert Lea.

Many departments including pediatrics, the same day clinic and the emergency room are all seeing more patients than usual. However, Abbott said the increased patient load is not unexpected.

Abbott said H1N1 is mostly affecting younger people and is comparable to the seasonal flu.

“People feel really crummy. Most people suffer and get over it,” Abbott said.

One of the biggest concerns is pneumonia, which people with H1N1 can contract as a side effect of the virus. Pneumonia symptoms include trouble breathing and even looking blue because of a lack of oxygen.

“We’re fearful that we’re telling people to stay home who might be at risk for becoming more ill,” Abbott said.

Freeborn County Public Health Director Lois Ahern said the virus has not gotten more severe over the last few months, but there is still cause for concern.

“The seasonal flu season doesn’t start, really, until December. And the seasonal flu will build and it peaks by the end of January and February, then it tapers off. To see influenza like this now leads us to believe that it’s H1N1, not the seasonal variety. The treatment is basically the same for either type of influenza,” Ahern said.

People can call the flu line with the Minnesota Department of Health toll-free at (866) 259-4655. ALMC has its own flu line at 379-2211.