CHAMPAIGN – Is H1N1 bowing out or just resting up for a repeat performance?
In the past couple of weeks, local doctors have seen a dramatic decline in the number of people sickened by influenza.
But keep that jug of hand sanitizer nearby, and don't stop coughing into your elbow.
Health experts predict another wave of flu sickness will strike after the holidays. They just don't know if the next big wave will be more H1N1, the emergence of seasonal flu, or a nasty double billing.
"Experts tell us we should expect three waves of influenza this year, and we just finished the first wave," says Dr. Kevin Kirby, a Carle Clinic Convenient Care physician.
Based on recent years' experience, a wave of seasonal flu can be expected to hit around February, he said.
But another wave of H1N1 – similar to what's already circulated or a more severe version – could surface before then and linger long enough for both kinds of influenza to be circulating.
If that happens, it's going to throw doctors a new challenge, Kirby says: How to treat influenza when the symptoms for H1N1 and the expected seasonal flu viruses are virtually the same, and there's no timely and practical way to distinguish between the two through testing.
Plus, Kirby says, the drug Tamiflu that helps H1N1 symptoms doesn't work for the expected seasonal flu on the way.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District has been tracking the progress of H1N1 through patient counts reported by local doctors, hospitals and schools, and says the number of local cases peaked Oct. 10 and gradually began declining.
But it was still going strong in mid- to late October, when 60 percent of the patients coming to Carle Clinic Convenient Care centers had respiratory ailments and 25 percent of that group also had additional influenza-like symptoms, Kirby said.
By later November, those numbers had been cut to about 30 percent of all patients coming in with respiratory symptoms and around 5 percent with influenza. That's fairly consistent with what doctors would expect to see this time of year, Kirby said.
The steep decline in H1N1 locally is consistent with the national trend. Fewer states were reporting widespread flu activity in mid-to-late November and flu-related hospitalizations and deaths declined – though were still high compared to what would be expected for this time of year – according to the CDC.
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde says she'd like to think the 35,500 vaccinations for H1N1 that have been administered in Champaign County to date have had an impact on the slow-down in the number of people getting sick.
The H1N1 vaccine takes about two weeks after it's been administered to start offering some protection, and the health district has been aggressively rolling it out in the community since the first shipment arrived in October.
The University of Illinois campus population has already been through two waves of H1N1, the first when students arrived back for the school year and the second about a month ago, says Dr. Robert Palinkas, director of the UI McKinley Health Center.
The past week has also brought a dramatic decline in H1N1 illnesses on campus, Palinkas says. But it's hard to say whether that's a factor of national and local trends or the Thanksgiving break that emptied out campus housing and classrooms, he adds. Probably a combination of the two.
Pryde says influenza forecasters project the next wave of influenza will hit in January or February, and she sees the current lull as a great time for anybody eligible for an H1N1 vaccination who hasn't gotten one to get to a vaccination clinic.
For more vaccination opportunities, see the public health Web site at www.c-uphd.org.
Vermilion County cuts clinics as demand wanes
DANVILLE – Demand for an H1N1 vaccinations has tapered off significantly in Vermilion County, so the county health department is scaling back its plans for public vaccination clinics.
There will now be two clinics this month, from 3 to 6 p.m. Dec. 10 and Dec. 16, at the health department building at 200 S. College St., Danville.
Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Steve Laker said response has been low at clinics outside Danville, and off-site clinics are costly.
"We are experiencing a significantly diminishing demand for H1N1 vaccinations, and that means we cannot afford to continue to hold large clinics off-site," he said.
So far, the health department has held 12 clinics since Nov. 1, in Danville, Hoopeston and Georgetown, and has vaccinated 6,000 people in all.
Laker said the earlier clinics were held for six hours with eight nurse stations operating, and the health department had calculated it could serve 2,000 to 3,000 people per clinic at that rate. But the highest turnout for a clinic was about 1,100 people.
Vaccinations through public health clinics are free, and the second dose needed by children age 9 and younger will be available at the two upcoming clinics.
Laker said Vermilion County's vaccination plan is designed to crank back up again if there's a surge in demand prompted by more illnesses and deaths from H1N1 or if the CDC removes the vaccine restrictions and opens it up to the general public.
The vaccine is currently restricted to pregnant women, children and young adults 6 months to age 24, health care and emergency workers, anyone living with or caring for children younger than 6 months and people ages 25-64 with chronic health conditions.
Until demand picks up or restrictions are lifted, Laker said, the health department will be offering some of its vaccine supply to private medical providers to offer their patients.