‘Outbreak’ of H1N1 in Garfield County
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – “There definitely is an H1N1 outbreak going on in our community,” declared Dave Adamson, director of the Mountain Family Health Center, 1905 Blake Ave. in Glenwood Springs, on Wednesday.
But officials say that the outbreak has not manifested as a sudden increase in hospitalizations or in the severity of symptoms, and they continue to maintain that H1N1 is no more deadly than what is known as “seasonal” flu.
This is despite the fact that a young Rifle student died after contracting the disease, although there is no proof that the disease is what killed her.
Officials urged patients to see their regular family doctor about their flu symptoms, and take precautions to avoid catching or spreading the disease.
“Yes, we are in an outbreak,” agreed Sarah Place of Valley View Hospital. “We are seeing higher numbers than normal for this time of the year. But people aren’t getting any sicker than normal.”
Adamson explained that his clinic has been seeing dozens of patients per day recently, all with flu symptoms that are suspected to be caused by the H1N1 virus, otherwise known as “swine flu.”
He said he has set aside a portion of the clinic space where “they’re doing nothing but flu cases.”
Members of the clinical staff working on H1N1 cases “have been seeing 30 cases a day” per staffer, Adamson said, explaining that there typically are two or three working on flu cases at any given moment.
Place, who is the “incident commander” for Valley View’s programmatic response to the disease, said she does not anticipate that the virus will become more deadly.
“I don’t think it will. We’ll just probably see more volume,” she predicted. She said the hospital tests for flu, but is not able to test specifically for H1N1.
But since the outbreak hit earlier than the typical flu season, which runs from early October through March, she said hospital officials believe H1N1 is the cause.
“That is definitely what we’re seeing, Influenza A, and we’re presuming that it’s H1N1,” she explained.
Officials from across the governmental spectrum are working on the situation, trying to keep people informed and helping treat those infected.
Online, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is urging “all persons with mild flu-like illness to stay home. Children and adolescents with fever should not go to day care or school. Adults with fever should not go to work until their fever has gone away for 24 hours.”
Those with severe symptoms are encouraged to seek medical attention.
And, said Place, “The most important thing is hand-washing,” advice that is stressed to VVH workers as well as the public, as well as the issuance of face masks to workers and to those showing symptoms.
At a recent training exercise in Carbondale, officials from 25 emergency services agencies around the region took part in a simulated mass outbreak of the disease.
On the website of the national Center for Disease Control, Colorado was listed as having “widespread” reports of H1N1 as of Sept. 19, according to the site’s “FluView” map of the U.S.
According to the CDPHE, “surveillance for the 2009-2010 season officially began with the week ending Sept. 5, and by Sept. 26 statewide there were more than 80 hospitalizations per day of suspected H1N1 patients.
But at Valley View, Place said, there have been very few patients admitted; most have been treated and released from the emergency room.
Place said the hospital has hospitalized four patients since Sunday, one of whom was sent home after treatment. The other three were still there as of Wednesday afternoon.
County-wide, according to the public health department, five people have been hospitalized between Aug. 26 and Sept. 29, and “only two … have been confirmed as having 2009 Novel H1N1 influenza.”
Typically during flu season, Place said, two patients end up with severe enough symptoms to warrant hospitalization at VVH.
Over last weekend, she said, the hospital’s emergency room saw 40 patients between Sept. 25 and Sept. 27. From Sept. 27 until Sept. 30, she said, the number of flu patients who came in stood at 22 as of mid-afternoon on Wednesday.
“I think patients are getting the message,” she said, which is to see their regular physician when flu symptoms appear, rather than going to the hospital’s emergency room.
That leaves the ER better able to take care of critical-care emergencies instead of dealing with an illness that is not very susceptible to ER-type treatment.