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H1N1 arrives on Vashon Island, but level of outbreak remains low

Vashon medical officials saw their first cases of confirmed H1N1 flu last week, indicating that a virus that is sweeping the country has arrived to the Island.

Both the Vashon Health Center and Vashon Family Practice reported confirmed cases; Dr. Charles Weispfenning's Vashon Plaza Medical Clinic, meanwhile, has seen no increase in the number of people with flu-like illnesses, the clinic reports.

But Vashon is not experiencing nearly the level of outbreak other areas of the country are seeing, where waiting rooms at health care facilities are clogged and schools are closed because of high absences.

At Vashon schools, most students are still present and accounted for, according to Donna Donelly, the assistant to the superintendent. There has been some increase in flu-like illnesses among students, she said, but no spike, and the absentee rate is still under 10 percent.

Islanders hoping to prevent the flu through the H1N1 vaccine will have to wait a bit longer, however, since no vaccine has been available yet on the Island.

"We have nowhere near enough vaccine to meet the need," said James Apa, the communications manager of Seattle — King County Public Health, which is distributing the vaccine in this area.

Public health officials had hoped to have 250,000 doses of the vaccine by this time but have received only 70,000 doses, with another 20,000 doses expected in health care providers' offices by the end of this week, Apa said.

The delay is stemming for the nationwide shortage of the vaccine.

More vaccine is available and shipped each week, and officials still say that there will eventually be plenty of vaccine this season, albeit later than many had hoped.

"Our goal is that all health providers who have requested the vaccine will receive at least some vaccine by the beginning of November," Apa said.

Apa could not say exactly when Vashon might receive its first doses, in part to protect those clinics from an even larger flood of phone calls about the vaccine than they have already been fielding. The first shipments will likely be small, he added; the facilities that have received vaccine shipments have received only about 10 percent of the amount they ordered.

When it does arrive, the vaccines will be given first to those people the Centers for Disease Control has identified to be in high-risk groups, including pregnant women, health care providers, people who care for infants under 6 months, people between 25 and 64 with underlying health problems and everyone between 6 months and 24 years of age.

Countywide, 900,000 people fit into those catergories, Apa said. The county currently has enough vaccine to vaccinate only 7 percent of them and only 3 percent of the whole population.

This shortage means that other preventative measures are vital, health officials say.

"We're going to be really working with parents to be vigilant about their kids' symptoms and keeping them home when they are sick," Apa said.

Throughout the county, there has been increasing flu activity so far this fall, with more people seeking care now for flu-like illnesses in recent weeks than at the peak of last year's seasonal flu season, according to Apa. Since Sept. 1, 51 people have been hospitalized in King County for complications related to H1N1 flu; one person, a man in his 20s with underlying health conditions, has died.

For more information, visit the county health department's Web site or call its Flu Hotline between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 877-903-5464. VashonBePrepared also carries a list of sites with extensive H1N1 information.

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