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Flu Season Peaks, H1N1 Rumors Swirl

New America Media, News report, Jacob Simas Posted: Dec 30, 2009

LOS ANGELES According to public health officials, nearly one in six California residents are now infected with the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, as of mid-December. Of those, nearly 8,000 have been hospitalized due to infection. And as peak flu season quickly approaches, officials expect these numbers to grow.

More illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths will occur in the coming weeks, said Dr. Ben Sun of the California Department of Public Health. But with an increase in vaccine availability, we have a unique window of opportunity to get people vaccinated.

Dr. Suns remarks came at an ethnic media press briefing in Los Angeles, where he and others from the public health community answered questions and encouraged prevention against the H1N1 virus.

The briefing, organized by New America Media (NAM) and sponsored by the California Endowment, gave health officials an opportunity to address the myriad rumors and myths surrounding H1N1, at a crucial stage in their fight against the virus.

More than 10 million H1N1vaccinations had been administered in California as of the date of this briefing, Dec. 17, yet roughly half the state population remains at risk of infection. Increasing the number of vaccinations, say officials, will decrease the chance of major outbreaks in the coming weeks.

Its a very good moment to take stock, to look, to hear from the experts, said Sandy Close, NAMs executive director. What do our audiences need to know as we look ahead toward the peak of the flu season?

Several ethnic media participants said that rumors about the safety of the H1N1 vaccination are being spread by word of mouth throughout their communities, causing people to abstain from being vaccinated.

I remember interviewing a lady who had been told by a co-worker that everyone getting vaccinated is going to get sick and die, said Yurina Rico, a reporter with La Opinion newspaper. Another myth is that if you inject the vaccine you get the flu faster.

Carolin Eng of Herald Christian Health Center had heard similar concerns from the Chinese community in Los Angeles. Weve had people calling with all kinds of stories, like the vaccine is going to make your bones brittle. There are all types of myths out there.

Dr. Sun assured the audience that the state health department has been closely monitoring the H1N1 vaccine, and there is no indication it poses a health threat.

As far as safety goes, the H1N1 vaccine is made the same way we make the seasonal vaccine, it is just a different strain of virus, he said. Some people may have normal reactions to the injection, like soreness or redness. Or if you get the nasal vaccine, it may be runny nose. But these are not serious or life-threatening, and the benefit will outweigh those small risks.

Other media professionals in attendance expressed frustration at the fact that the medical community appears split on the issue of H1N1 vaccinations.

Flu h1n1People are scared and confused, said Fatima Bakhil, publisher of Al Enteshar newspaper. Some doctors say to take it, some warn not to take it, so what should people believe?

Ken August, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, said differing opinions within the medical community may stem from the fact that H1N1 symptoms are similar to the seasonal flu, causing H1N1 to appear less of a threat than it really is.

According to state health department estimates, 90 percent of flu victims in California are infected with the H1N1 virus, as opposed to the more familiar strain of seasonal flu.

The seasonal flu vaccine, said Dr. Sun, does not protect against H1N1.

In the coming months, officials hope Californians will take advantage of the 10.5 million additional vaccinations being made available to local health departments across the state.

Doing so, said August, will decrease the likelihood of more infections amongst those most vulnerable to the virus: Young people between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, as well as pregnant women.

Weve all become accustomed during regular flu season to see older people get sick and sometimes die, said August. For us, to see children or a young pregnant woman healthy in every other way pass away because she was exposed to the flu, that shakes us.H1n1_briefing

Because vaccine supplies are limited, Dr. Sun recommended that California residents contact their medical providers or community clinics to find out about availability.

In addition to seeking the vaccine, Dr. Sun recommended the public take additional common-sense measures to protect themselves against infection. These include covering your cough, staying home from work or school if you show symptoms, and washing your hands after eating, using the restroom or touching your mouth.

Many in the audience of ethnic media professionals appeared to leave the briefing with a better understanding of H1N1 virus.

There are many stories about H1N1, said Bernard Lloyd, editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel. They may be blown out of proportion or context, but when someone hears those stories it has an impact. So hopefully I can write a story to get at the facts, so folks can make a well-reasoned decision to get the (H1N1) flu-shot.

For more information about the H1N1 pandemic in California, visit cdph.ca.gov

Photos by Jacob Simas

Related Articles:

San Diego Braces for More Fatalities in H1N1 Outbreak

CDC to Detroit Media: Trust is Crucial to Dispel H1N1 Hype

Santa Clara Health Officials Warn Against H1N1 Fatigue

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