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Health officials: Some areas unprepared for swine flu outbreak

Category: Infectious Diseases

While the number of reported case of the H1N1 flu virus escalates, U.S. health officials and laymen alike have begun to form opinions regarding the country's preparedness.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general concluded, after an investigation of 10 municipal and 5 states' preparations for a pandemic as of August 2008, that some areas have not taken the basic steps necessary for prevention, Reuters reports. Specifically, the inspectors indicated that some states have not recruited the needed personnel, tracked the availability of hospital beds or determined where vaccines would be distributed.

While the investigation and subsequent report do not indicate preparations undertaken since the government allocated more than $1.4 billion for state and local governments, it nevertheless reveals that some hospitals are likely unable to manage a serious pandemic.
According to Reuters, the government investigators concluded, "Although the selected states and localities are making progress…more needs to be done to improve states' and localities' ability to respond to a pandemic."

Health officials are furthermore concerned that job cuts caused by the economic downturn may leave some healthcare systems understaffed. Robert Pestronk executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials commented, "The economic strains on local and state government budgets are reducing public health resources at a time when a stable public health system is greatly needed."

Prior failures with swine flu

The first emergence of a swine flu strain can be dated back to the 1918 pandemic, which killed between 50 million and 100 million people worldwide.

In 1976, another swine flu outbreak prompted government officials to begin an immunization program, which suffered from long delays and widely-circulated misconceptions about the nature of the vaccines, according to the National Academies Press. On the first day that vaccinations were given, the media reported that three senior citizens had died after receiving their shots. Further reports linking a rare neuromuscular disease to the vaccine put a stop to the program with just 22 percent of Americans immunized.

In April 2009, Margaret Chan, the World Health Organization's (WHO) director-general, declared a public health emergency when the first cases began to emerge. The virus was reported in days later Alberta, Canada, in pigs. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency reported the pigs likely caught the flu from a farmer who had just spent time in Mexico.
U.S. Health officials have observed that for every 1,000 people who are infected with H1N1, about 40 need hospitalization, and one dies.

Swine flu, in perspective

Despite warnings by health officials and the pervasive belief that the winter months will exacerbate the spread of the H1N1 virus, some Americans remain unconcerned.

A survey conducted by FoxNews revealed that 22 percent of Americans are "not very concerned" and 13 percent are "not at all concerned" about the reach of the first pandemic flu the U.S. has experienced in 40 years. In fact, 55 percent of those surveyed stated that they were more worried that a family member might lose their job than catch swine flu.
At the time of Monday's survey, only 14 percent of Americans thought the government was "very prepared" to handle the virus - a figure which may change once vaccinations arrive in early October.

Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that more than 3 million doses of an inhalable swine flu vaccine would be on hand within several weeks, CNN Health reports. Officials also expect that an undisclosed amount of flu shots will be available in early October.

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