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Indiana officials watch for changes in H1N1 severity

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  • Indiana officials watch for changes in H1N1 severity

    Indiana officials watch for changes in H1N1 severity

    Updated: Sep 22, 2009 5:49 AM CDT

    State health officials said Monday that they are watching for possible changes in the severity of the H1N1 virus by closely monitoring suspected cases at Indiana's hospitals, doctor's offices and universities as the full flu season approaches.

    Although four deaths from H1N1 have been confirmed in Indiana, the vast majority of all H1N1 cases have been mild and comparable to the seasonal flu, said acting state epidemiologist Pam Pontones.

    But the state, which expects Indiana's first H1N1 vaccine shipments to arrive in mid-October, is keeping track of the "pulse" of Indiana's H1N1 cases because the virus could mutate and become more dangerous, she said.

    The state Department of Health's laboratory is monitoring flu-like symptoms by enlisting 56 physician's offices, clinics and universities that submit viral samples to the agency's laboratory for testing.

    Pontones said that 97 percent to 98 percent of the flu virus samples tested by the state's laboratory are the H1N1 strain. The remainder have been seasonal flu strains.

    A second, larger network ties the agency to computers in 76 of Indiana's hospital emergency rooms and provide near real-time updates on the symptoms of people seeking emergency care. That data can help detect changes in the severity of the virus.

    "It's a snapshot of influenza-like illnesses in these hospitals at any given time," Pontones said.
    Starting Wednesday, state health officials will begin posting selected information from those networks on its Web site, That data will be updated every day.

    Pontones said the state is being vigilant as it awaits its first H1N1 vaccine doses, which are expected within about three weeks.

    Indiana should get up to 850,000 doses of both nasal spray and injected doses of the H1N1 vaccine by mid-October, followed by an additional 400,000 doses each week after that.

    Those initial doses are intended for at-risk groups, including children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years, health care workers who are exposed to patients, and people ages 5 and older living with children younger than 6 months, Pontones said.

    After those groups are vaccinated, doses will be available to the general public.

    Jim Howell, the assistant state health commissioner for public health and preparedness, said that by January 2010 there should be enough H1N1 vaccine on hand to meet all of the demand in the state.

    "There should be adequate supplies of vaccine that every Indiana citizen can be vaccinated at some point in time," he said.

    All shipments will go directly to county health departments, which will be responsible for distributing the doses to clinics and hospitals and work with school officials to immunize children.

    Although the vast majority of H1N1 cases have been so mild many people didn't seek medical treatment, she said state officials want Indiana residents to seek out the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available.

    "We want to protect others as much as possible. Even though the disease is overwhelmingly mild now, we want to make such we protect as many people as we can in it becomes more severe," Pontones said.
    "Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."
    -Nelson Mandela