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Cuts worry state health chief

Fears new flu strain in fall

June 4, 2009
by RAY MARTIN
Raleigh News and Observer

Dr. Jeffrey Engel, director of the N.C. Division of Public Health, said he expects a second strain of the unique virus will surface as colder weather starts to chase people indoors, making it easier to spread flu in offices, schools and other public places.

 

Engel said the current H1N1 strain will likely continue to spread at a low level through the summer.

"Pandemics come in waves," he said. "We don't know how many waves there will be. But the second would come in the fall when we enter the normal flu period."

Engel's concerns are consistent with a report released Thursday by Trust for America's Health, the Center for Biosecurity and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- all national health advocacy groups. The 23-page report details lessons learned from the first strain of the virus and makes recommendations to Congress, health experts and the public on how to prepare for the potential second round of a flu pandemic.

"The first strain showed that the public health infrastructure is severely constrained at this point," said David Fleming, director and health officer of Seattle and King County in Washington and co-author of the report. "It's getting tough on the front lines in this country now."

Because of recession-driven belt-tightening by state and local governments, Fleming said, many public health nurses and officials nationwide received layoff notices two weeks after they began to treat H1N1 patients.

Health officials nationwide are racing to develop an H1N1 vaccine and hope to have one available by fall. But Engel thinks this is a difficult goal because it will take a long time to develop a vaccine and perform clinical tests to make sure it's safe. The new vaccine will likely be made available to those who are most susceptible to flu, he said.

"We're hoping the vaccination will be the life preserver," Engel said.

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