Just as the H1N1 vaccine was made available to everyone in Middle Georgia, Christmas shopping and balmy weather has kept people from worrying much about the so-called “swine flu” and spreading it indoors, officials said.
The number of new cases of H1N1 influenza has fallen in the past few weeks, North Central District Health Director David Harvey said. All 13 counties in his district began offering the vaccine to the general public Wednesday, even as the number of new infections slowed slightly.
“The graph tends to be on a downward trend, but we haven’t had cold weather yet,” Harvey said. “And the fear — based on experience — is that we’re going to see a resurgence of H1N1, and we’re going to a secondary appearance of the seasonal flu. We’re expecting a double whammy.”
Area school systems are offering flu vaccine clinics now, and more clinics open to the general public are expected to be scheduled in the next few weeks, Harvey said.
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Katherine McLeod, chief executive officer of First Choice Primary Care in Macon, said her clinic has seen few flu cases but plenty of requests for flu shots. After getting another shipment Tuesday, the clinic has plenty of H1N1 vaccine on hand and recommends people ask their medical providers about it. Only a few, such as those with specific allergy problems, shouldn’t get the vaccine.
“Unless there’s some reason not to, we’re encouraging everybody to get it,” she said.
A similar recommendation comes at Bibb Family Practice, nurse Marina Durham said.
“A lot of adults are asking for it, but most of them are parents for school-aged kids,” she said.
She expects more adults and youths will be getting the H1N1 vaccine after school is closed for the Christmas break.
Swine flu contributed to the deaths of at least three people from Bibb, Jones and Monroe counties.
The victims, all women, had other underlying medical problems, health officials said.
On Nov. 2, area hospitals began blocking youths from visiting other patients because young people are more likely to get sick and spread the flu, health officials said.
Merita Burney, chief nursing officer at Coliseum Medical Centers, said Wednesday that her hospitals plan to keep the restrictions in place until flu season ends.
They’ve experienced no outbreaks and have had few patients complain about the visitation restrictions.
Burney said she’s encouraging everyone to ask their doctors whether flu shots are right for them.
Houston County opened Northside High School on Wednesday night for a public flu shot clinic.
Another public clinic is planned from 4-7 p.m. Dec. 17 at Morningside Elementary in Perry.
A list of vaccine providers is available from a state Web page, health.state.ga.us.
Harvey said H1N1 influenza already has killed about 4,000 Americans, including about 600 children.
He said the H1N1 vaccine is made the same way and is just as safe as the regular flu vaccine, which he also recommends.
“Right now is a tough time,” he said. “People may be busy shopping, planning the holidays. And it’s nice weather. We’re not seeing a lot about it. But I think when the cold weather comes and we hear about the first death or two, we’ll all get reminded about the seriousness” of influenza.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.