Worries about H1N1 flu in Vermont - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Worries about H1N1 flu in Vermont

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Reed Irwin has been getting a flu shot for years, although he admits he's rolling up his sleeve for this season's vaccine a little later than usual.

"I did procrastinate a little bit this year," Irwin said.

But reports of severe illness in several other states caused by the H1N1 strain of influenza make him happy he's finally here.

"I was already going to come over and get a flu shot, but I guess that gave me a little extra impetus," he said.

You may remember long lines back in 2009 when H1N1, formerly known as the swine flu, first appeared in humans worldwide. Here in Vermont, people lined up in droves at mass vaccination clinics, and Vermont health officials even set up shop in schools around the state to immunize children. It was called a pandemic back then, not because of case numbers or the severity of illness, but because the world's population had no immunity to the virus.

"Here is the number of cases. So there's a big bump of many people getting sick and this blue line is the immunity of the population in general. And you can see that in the beginning there's none," said Dr. Chris Grace of Fletcher Allen Health Care.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 61 million people were infected with H1N1 that year; 274,000 were hospitalized and more than 12,000 people died. The majority of deaths were in people 18-64.

"The younger you are the less exposure you have with influenza, either getting the flu or getting vaccinated. So, the less immunity you have and the higher risk you will be," Grace said.

Grace says H1N1 never went away, but this year appears to be the predominant strain making people sick in other states. Fletcher Allen just confirmed at least eight cases of the flu in its clinics and the emergency room this week, and Grace expects typing results will soon confirm it's the H1N1 strain.

"That is the expectation," he said. "I mean it basically looks like it moves from the southern part of the United States and moves progressively north. There are clearly cases in New York, Boston, Western New York now also, so it's moving up."

But the hope is that people are better protected this time around because the general population should have some immunity to the strain through exposure in the community since 2009, and its inclusion in the flu vaccine every year.

"Now, there's no guarantee," Grace said. "The viruses can have very subtle changes and you know, will the protection be as good as we hope? I don't know. Everybody is a little frightened by these reports that you had mentioned of otherwise young, healthy people getting very sick. We're talking about dying. We're talking about being stuck on mechanical ventilators. That level of sick-- not I feel awful and I'm coughing-- but very sick."

Grace says the best protection is still a flu shot and it's not too late. A widespread outbreak is still on the horizon and flu season can run right into April.

The Visiting Nurse Association has wrapped up all of its public clinics, but is still offering vaccine by appointment.

"Every year the flu causes serious illness and death. And so I recommend everyone young and old should get their flu shots," said Peg Slagle of the Visiting Nurse Association.

Again, both experts emphasize that vaccine is the best protection and despite what they call myths, they say it cannot give you the flu. Perhaps a short-term fever on rare occasion, but not the virus itself. It's also not a 100-percent guarantee, but they say some protection against the flu-- H1N1 or not-- is better than none at all.

So far, the Vermont Health Department is reporting just local flu activity, which means one area of the state.

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