Beacon News: Swine flu hits South Florida

By Luther Hollis
Opinion Editor

As the wave of H1N1 virus — commonly known as swine flu — continues to spread, Palm Beach County residents have become even more attentive to related news and ideas for prevention of the disease.

College campuses like Palm Beach Atlantic University are being singled out as potential hotbeds for the disease.

Vince Diller, director of PBA’s Health and Wellness Center, said, “We have had under ten confirmed cases of the flu but continue to treat all illnesses with the intent to minimize infection of others.”

In an e-mail sent out to students on Sept. 10, all students who exhibit symptoms are asked to notify Health and Wellness.

According to the e-mail, a quarantine area will be provided for those students exhibiting symptoms of the flu to limit exposure.

Photo by Kristina Webb / Managing Editor

Photo by Kristina Webb / Managing Editor

Sharon Virkler, a registered nurse with Health and Wellness, said that the CDC has restructured its guidelines and “individuals are not tested for H1N1 (unless they are hospitalized).”

Instead, people with flu-like symptoms are treated with common flu treatments such as nasal spray Tamiflu.

Although Tamiflu does not cure swine flu, it is used to alleviate the flu symptoms that are associated with H1N1.

Virkler also stated that PBA has applied to the Florida Department of Health to become a distributor of the swine flu vaccine once it is available in October.

Since PBA has a significant population of the 19 to 24 age group of which the CDC recommend vaccination, Virkler said it is likely that PBA’s application will be approved.

According to the Sun Sentinel newspaper, Florida Atlantic University has had about 100 presumptuous swine flu cases since the summer, with only one requiring hospitalization.

The University of Miami reports one in five suspected flu cases actually being swine flu infection.

According to the Florida Department of Health, Palm Beach County ranks fourth in the state in swine flu hospitalizations. At 59 hospitalizations as of Sept. 8, Palm Beach County falls only behind Miami-Dade, Orange and Broward counties.

The Palm Beach County Health Department’s Sept. 9 press release stated a confirmed total of six swine flu deaths in the county.

The press release also noted that the World Health Organization officially declared swine flu a level six pandemic, defined by their Web site as “a worldwide epidemic of a disease [which] does not necessarily mean mass fatalities.”

On Sept. 18, Associated Press Medical Writer Mike Stobbe wrote that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated, “About 3.4 million doses of nasal spray vaccine will be available the first week of October.”

However, the date for this vaccine is approximate, and the CDC has not yet committed to a date to release the swine flu vaccine.

In a press release on Sept. 15, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that four vaccines were approved, and would be available within four weeks of that date.

“The nasal spray (FluMist) is only approved in the United States, and is made by the Maryland-based MedImmune,” Stobbe reported. “The government has ordered 195 million doses but may order more if there’s enough demand, health officials have said.”

While there have not been enough swine flu cases in U.S. universities and colleges to warrant an outbreak classification, perhaps the arrival of the vaccine will be welcomed news to South Florida colleges and universities.

Seasonal flu vaccines are currently available in Health and Wellness. Call (561) 803-2535 for more information.

Recommended precautions

For your safety, the PBC Health Department recommends the following as precautions against swine flu:

– Avoid close contact with people who are coughing or otherwise appear ill.
– Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
– Wash hands frequently to lessen the spread of respiratory illness.

For more information

Below are several links that the Beacon has found to be very helpful in researching swine flu. If you have any questions about the H1N1 virus, these sites are great.

FluMist H1N1 Vaccine information
CDC H1N1 Site
CDC Vaccine recommendations
Palm Beach County Health Department
PBA’s H1N1 Fact Sheet (.PDF file)
Information on Tamiflu

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