Worries about H1N1 flu in Vermont

Thursday, January 2, 2014
By Paul Martin

By Bridget Barry Caswell
Jan 02, 2014

Reed Irwin has been getting a flu shot for years, although he admits he’s rolling up his sleeve for this season’s vaccine a little later than usual.

“I did procrastinate a little bit this year,” Irwin said.

But reports of severe illness in several other states caused by the H1N1 strain of influenza make him happy he’s finally here.

“I was already going to come over and get a flu shot, but I guess that gave me a little extra impetus,” he said.

You may remember long lines back in 2009 when H1N1, formerly known as the swine flu, first appeared in humans worldwide. Here in Vermont, people lined up in droves at mass vaccination clinics, and Vermont health officials even set up shop in schools around the state to immunize children. It was called a pandemic back then, not because of case numbers or the severity of illness, but because the world’s population had no immunity to the virus.

“Here is the number of cases. So there’s a big bump of many people getting sick and this blue line is the immunity of the population in general. And you can see that in the beginning there’s none,” said Dr. Chris Grace of Fletcher Allen Health Care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 61 million people were infected with H1N1 that year; 274,000 were hospitalized and more than 12,000 people died. The majority of deaths were in people 18-64.

“The younger you are the less exposure you have with influenza, either getting the flu or getting vaccinated. So, the less immunity you have and the higher risk you will be,” Grace said.

Grace says H1N1 never went away, but this year appears to be the predominant strain making people sick in other states. Fletcher Allen just confirmed at least eight cases of the flu in its clinics and the emergency room this week, and Grace expects typing results will soon confirm it’s the H1N1 strain.

“That is the expectation,” he said. “I mean it basically looks like it moves from the southern part of the United States and moves progressively north. There are clearly cases in New York, Boston, Western New York now also, so it’s moving up.”

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