Only about a dozen people attended Thursday night’s town hall meeting on the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu.
Dan Partridge, Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department director, and Dr. Christopher Penn, who specializes in infectious disease medicine, provided a short overview for the meeting, which was at the Community Health Facility, 200 Maine.
Penn emphasized using common sense. He held up a bottle of hand sanitizer and squirted some in his hands.
“I can’t stress enough the importance of hand washing and using hand sanitizer,” he said.
He described the H1N1 vaccine as “very safe.” He also said to err on the side of caution when it comes to any illness and call a doctor.
Partridge emphasized that there will be enough vaccination for everyone who wants one.
“Be patient because the assurance has been given that we will receive enough vaccine,” he said. “The vaccine is on its way. It will just take time to get all of it.”
Then, they opened the meeting up for questions. Here are some of the highlights:
• If sick, when should people go back to work or school?
Partridge said to wait 24 hours after the fever breaks. If you are a health care worker, it is seven days.
• How long will the H1N1 immunization last?
“I can’t answer that question,” Penn said, honestly. Partridge didn’t have one either.
• Should the public be concerned that a 50-year-old woman recently died of swine flu and she had no underlying health conditions?
Penn explained that it’s not just about the bacteria being there, but the body’s response to it and every case is different.
Partridge emphasized that everyone is at risk — not just those with underlying health conditions.
“It’s a reflection of sample size. Kansas has had seven deaths now. The United States is close to 100 — I believe — and so in our small size of seven, this was the first that had no underlying conditions,” he said. “It doesn’t mean all of a sudden Kansas has a new risk that has appeared. That risk has always been there. It’s just we didn’t see it because of the small sample.”
• During the first immunization clinics, how will the health department know if people truly belong in the priority group?
“We are just going to take people’s word,” Partridge said.
Kim Ens, preparedness coordinator and a registered nurse, said she hoped the public was educated enough to know that the priority group is for people who are most likely to suffer complications if they get swine flu or for health care workers who deal with such people.
Those in the priority group are pregnant women, people between 6 months and 24 years, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months, health care and emergency services personnel and people ages 25 through 64 who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications.
• Are there any foods that can help fight influenza, such as orange juice or oranges?
Penn recommended eating a well-balanced, nutritious diet. He said to eat a variety of foods in order to get all of the vitamins and minerals required to stay healthy.
Despite the meeting’s low turnout, health department officials are confident that people are willing to get the H1N1 vaccination.
Charlotte Marthaler, director of policy and planning, said the department and Lawrence doctors have been fielding lots of questions dealing with H1N1.
“We’ve had lots of people calling the health department and asking about whether we have the vaccine, when are we going to have the vaccine, where can they go to get the vaccine,” she said. “We have every indication that we will have significant numbers coming to our clinic next Wednesday.”