Vigilance against flu still urged
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
Hawai'i may have seen the worst as far as the number of swine flu cases, but health officials are cautioning that the H1N1 virus is still here and people should continue to take precautions and get vaccinations.
The World Health Organization is set to meet this month to consider whether the swine flu pandemic has already peaked. WHO declared a pandemic last June, but experts will determine whether the worst of the outbreak is over.
In Hawai'i, the first cases of H1N1 were confirmed in early May and there was a steady increase in reported cases until they peaked in July, said Dr. Sarah Park, state epidemiologist. As the number of cases began to decline here in late August, Park said, there was a second wave of disease activity on the Mainland.
That second round of cases never reached Hawai'i, she said.
"We're thanking our lucky stars that we've only had one wave and hopefully it stays that way," Park said.
Park said she believes Hawai'i escaped a second outbreak because of preventive measures put in place by the Department of Health, such as programs to emphasize good hygiene. The H1N1 vaccine also came out at the same time the state's cases began to decline.
Although the WHO may declare that the pandemic's peak is over, Keiji Fukuda, WHO flu chief, warned that there is ongoing pandemic activity and people should not let their guard down.
"The flu is completely unpredictable," she said. "I'd like to be confident and say, 'Oh yeah, we're done and we won't see anything until next October.' But I know better. I have to stay vigilant, and we have to stay vigilant in public health so that everyone else can have a good life."
She cited the recent deaths here of a man and woman who contracted the swine flu as sad reminders of the possible consequence of the H1N1 virus. There have been 13 deaths in Hawai'i connected to the virus, compared with more than 15,000 worldwide.
Park said everyone should get an H1N1 vaccination and parents of children under 10 who received a first dose should be sure their children get the second dose. She said there is an ample supply of vaccine in the Islands.
"At this point, if you want to be vaccinated, you can be vaccinated," she said. "There are doses regularly available."