Central Louisiana a 'hot spot' for swine flu

By Karina Donica ? kdonica@thetowntalk.com ? August 26, 2009

The Central Louisiana region has become a "hot spot" for swine flu with a higher rate of the virus than any other health region in Louisiana in recent weeks, officials confirmed Tuesday.

According to the Louisiana Office of Public Health Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section, Region 6 -- composed of Rapides and seven other area parishes -- not only has caught up with other regions in the state, but in the past four weeks it surpassed the percentage of patients seeking medical care due to H1N1 symptoms.

"We are a hot spot, we have a lot of this around here, but there is no reason to panic," said Region 6 Administrator and Medical Director David Holcombe.

A total of 522 people have died of swine flu in the United States. One of those deaths is in Louisiana, which has 506 confirmed cases of H1N1, better known as the swine flu, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospital's Web site.

Comparatively speaking, the number of swine flu fatalities is a significantly lower number than seasonal flu fatalities, Holcombe said, stressing that people needs to cautious but not be fearful about it.

"It's very low severity. The name (swine flu) scares people because it's new and it's been in the news, but it's not scary because" of its fatality rates.

Holcombe said that while the fatality ratio of the 1918 influenza epidemic was 2 percent, swine flu is estimated to be 0.02 percent.

In addition, he said, the common flu is responsible for about 35,000 deaths nationwide each year.

Locally, two public schools report absenteeism rates of more than 10 percent due to H1N1 symptoms, which officials described as an unusually high rate of absenteeism. Officials would not identify the schools.

In Region 6 -- Rapides, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Concordia, Grant, LaSalle, Vernon and Winn parishes -- about 12.9 percent of hospital visits in recent weeks were by patients with symptoms consistent with swine flu, health officials reported, although no specific numbers are available.

"The majority of these are going to be H1N1," Holcombe said.
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He said that while lab confirmation of the virus is no longer done by public institutions due to the rapid spread of the virus, there is symptomatic certainty about the cases being reported, although the number of cases is elusive at this point.

The second highest percentage for any region was Region 2, the Baton Rouge area, with 8.1 percent. All other regions were below 4 percent.

Asked if health officials would recommend school closures, officials said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would not recommend closure unless there is not enough staff at schools to teach.

Parents of sick children need to keep them at home, take basic precautions and cooperate with school administrators, Holcombe said.

Ill individuals need to cover their mouth when coughing, use hand sanitizer after touching surfaces and wear a surgical mask to avoid projecting droplets, officials said.

The first case in Region 6 was reported in July.

H1N1 symptoms include chills, fever coughing, body aches and sometimes gastrointestinal symptoms.


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