Tombstone has avoided having any confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza so far, but vaccines are expected to be hard to come by in the coming weeks.
Arizona is one of 21 states reporting widespread H1N1 influenza — commonly known as Swine Flu — activity during the second week in September, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The CDC reported during the week of Sept. 6-12, H1N1 influenza activity in the U.S. continued to increase. The rise in numbers was measured by doctor’s visits, hospitalizations for H1N1 influenza, and state reports of H1N1 influenza activity. Widespread H1N1 influenza activity throughout the United States in September is unusually early, according to the CDC.
Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director for the Arizona Immunization Program Office of the Arizona Department of Health Services, has several worries about this flu season.
“Our concern is an under appreciation for the illness,” Lewis said. “Swine Flu is a new genetic mutation everyone is susceptible to.”
Lewis said each year 10 percent of the population is infected with regular influenza, and with H1N1 influenza 30 percent of the population could be infected.
“There are 36,000 deaths a year with the influenza,” she said. “Imagine 90,000 with swine flu. If terrorists did that, we would be scared.”
Lewis expects early H1N1 vaccinations and supplies to trickle in during October. For the majority of the population, the vaccinations will be available during November and December.
Tombstone Pharmacy owner, John Nicolais, said he had no information from the Cochise County Health Department yet as to who will receive vaccinations to administer to Tombstone residents.
“We are not sure at this point, we just don’t know about the shots,” Nicolais said. “But we are trying to set up to administer them here in town.”
The CDC said when the H1N1 influenza vaccine is ready there will not be enough available for the entire country, but there is a system of priority categorizing for people in the most need of the vaccine.
The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended Monday that the following five target groups receive the H1N1 influenza vaccination first: pregnant women, caregivers who have contact with children under the age of six months, health care and emergency medical services personnel, persons ranging from six months to 24 years old and persons 25-64 years old who have medical conditions associated with a higher risk of influenza complications.
If a person does not fit in the five priority categories they won’t be vaccinated until all people in the priority categories have been vaccinated, according to the Cochise County Health Department. The Cochise County Health Department is currently working on vaccination clinic plans.
“We have planned to have vaccination efforts around the Cochise County area and in the schools,” including Tombstone, said Vaira Harik, Cochise County Health Director.
Harik added that the Cochise County Health Department has no specific information yet on when and where the H1N1 influenza vaccinations will be made available throughout the county.
As soon as the Arizona Health Department receives the vaccination from the federal government they will be able to administer them, Harik said. Once the vaccinations are made available the Cochise County Health Department will have specific vaccination locations set up throughout the county including a time and day to administer shots in Tombstone.
According to the CDC, the federal government will give the H1N1 influenza vaccine to each of the states based on their population size. The federal government will be covering the cost of all of the vaccine given to the individual states.
Tombstone High School plans to help educate students and families in order to keep them healthier this influenza season.
“We are making a pamphlet and sending a letter to the parents and talking with our students about how to prevent getting sick,” said Mary Lewis, a nurse at Tombstone High School.
The Cochise County Health Department said the best defense against H1N1 influenza is to avoid becoming infected in the first place. They said maintaining excellent personal hygiene amongst adults and children is extremely important for the prevention of infection.
“Washing hands is the best way to stay healthy,” Lewis said.