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An advisory group to President Barak Obama has released a report that states up to 50 percent of the population could contract the H1N1 flu, more commonly called swine flu, this fall and Cheshire officials are encouraging people to “take precautions.”
The advisory panel, comprised of top scientists and engineers, reported their study to Obama on Aug. 24 and outlined some key steps that could be taken to minimize the outbreak of swine flu across the nation. While the report concludes that a swine flu pandemic is unlikely to resemble the deadly spread of flu in 1918, it is still believed between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths, mainly among children and young adults, could be attributed to H1N1.
“As the nation prepares for what could be a challenging fall, it is crucial that our public health decisions are informed by the very best scientific and technological information,” explained John P. Holdren, co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST.)
Among the group’s recommendations are to accelerate the preparation of flu vaccine to distribute to high risk individuals, upgrade the system used for tracking the progress of H1N1, and broadcast public health messages to educate the country.
“This virus has pulled us all together in a common cause,” said Eric Lander, co-chair of PCAST. “The preparations are the best ever for an influenza pandemic.”
In Connecticut, more than 1,900 cases of swine flu have been confirmed as of Aug. 27, with nine deaths occurring, all of whom had other underlying medical conditions. The range of ages for the cases are between less than one year to 93 years, with the median case being 14 years old. In Cheshire, according to the state of Connecticut Web site, there have been 29 confirmed cases of swine flu.
Town Manager Michael Milone said the Town’s main goal is to try and “heighten awareness” of residents and employees. Milone explained that in the Town’s newsletter, he reminded employees to take “various precautions” and urged everyone to get a flu shot.
“All we can do is remind people of the precautions they can and should take,” Milone said. “We are not public health officials, but we want to make the public aware of these things.”
Milone encouraged residents to contact Chesprocott with direct questions about the H1N1 flu. He said he would make information readily available to employees and the public but, ultimately, seeking advice from a public health official is recommended.
“We have made hand sanitizer readily available in the buildings,” Milone said. “And we’ll continue to heighten awareness and offer the public resources.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Greg Florio said he taped a public service announcement, which will air locally on Channel 16, about precautions for parents and students to take. Also, information on swine flu will be posted on the school’s Web site. He said he was following state and federal guidelines with dealing with H1N1 in the schools, and was encouraging “common sense ideas” such as practicing good hygiene and covering your mouth if you cough.
“No one is talking about closing schools or anything this year,” Florio said. “Good maintenance and cleaning schools won’t stop the spread of swine flu, but we have ordered more hand sanitizer and will provide the kids more opportunities to wash their hands.”
Florio said the district was “preparing for higher absenteeism” this year as a result of the virus and parents keeping their children home as a precaution. He said he has informed the teachers that they need to work better with the students who might be home so they can “keep up with any work they are missing.”
Besides getting a flu shot, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises six methods to avoid contracting H1N1, which include avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home from school or work when ill, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, cleaning your hands often, avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth to limit the spread of germs, and practicing other good health habits, such as drinking plenty of fluids and eating right.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced that the swine flu vaccination would be given out free to the public and urged all doctors and health care providers to administer the swine flu vaccine when the federal government makes it available. According to Rell, Connecticut would initially receive 1.8 million doses with priority given to high-risk individuals, such a pregnant women and children under four years old.
“We are making extensive preparations in advance of flu season to safeguard our citizens,” Rell said. “This year, getting a vaccine is more critical than ever since the swine flu virus has spread around the globe.”
More information for Connecticut residents on the H1N1 flu can be found online at www.ct.gov/ctfluwatch.