WXXI Local Stories
6:08 pm
Mon August 31, 2009

State Officials Say They Are Ready for Swine Flu

Albany, New York – Governor Paterson and his Health Commissioner have been busy making plans to cope with the next expected outbreak of swine flu, which could occur as early as the start of the new school year next week.

The governor and Health Commissioner Dr. Richard Daines held a town hall style meeting at an Albany Middle School to announce plans for coping with the next expected wave of the H1N1 virus. The governor says so far, everything is under control.

"We assure you that our schools, our hospitals and our government will be prepared for any outcome," said Paterson.

Dr. Daines says the swine flu vaccine will be ready by mid October, and they plan to immunize as many school children as possible, because, based on the behavior of the virus in the spring, younger people are a prime target.

"It's predilection was for 12 year old school children," Daines said.

Health care workers, and the elderly and ill will also be among the first in line for the vaccinations.

Dr. Daines says unlike during the first wave of the outbreak last spring, health officials will no longer be recommending that schools close if one or more children become sick with the flu. He says by the time the outbreak hits a school, it's usually too late to contain it anyway.

"We're kind of closing the door after the cows are out of the barn," said Daines, who said the school children will likely just congregate somewhere else if school is closed.

The Health Commissioner says schools may be used, though, as centers to distribute the vaccine once it arrives.

Governor Paterson and health officials say they expect the H1N1 virus won't be much more dangerous than the regular, seasonal flu. They recommend the usual precautions taken with the regular flu; frequent and thorough hand washing, staying home from school or work when you're sick, and not returning until you've been better for 24 hours. But they say they have back up contingencies if they are wrong and the epidemic rapidly worsens, including a "massive effort to try to administer the shots to everyone" , Paterson says.

At the town hall meeting, questioners in the audience voiced concerns ranging from the safety of the vaccine to whether working parents can get permission for extra leave from their jobs to stay home with sick children. Governor Paterson said he'd be looking into the possibility of additional sick time for workers.

Health Commissioner Daines also says it's important not to panic, and he says to avoid going to the Emergency Room with flu like symptoms, unless you are seriously ill. He says overuse of the ER will only lead to further spread of the disease.

Daines is also recommending that New Yorkers be vaccinated for the regular, seasonal flu, to cut down on confusion when someone does come down with flu like symptoms. The vaccine for the H1N1 virus will be administered in two separate doses, three weeks apart.