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Friday, 2 October 2009

Report - Warning over lack of hospital beds during Swine Flu epidemic.

Nevada is one of the 15 states that could run out of available hospital beds if swine flu strikes 35 percent of the population in the United States, according to a report released Thursday.

The report, "H1N1 Challenges Ahead," was published by the Washington, D.C.-based Trust for America's Health and predicts Nevada also could lose $9 billion if the H1N1 virus causes a severe pandemic.

But Gov. Jim Gibbons' spokesman said the report is based on some unlikely scenarios, and Nevadans should be prepared but not panicky about the impending flu season.

The report estimates Nevada's hospital bed occupancy could be at 137 percent at the peak of a flu outbreak.

"Health departments and communities around the country are racing against the clock as the pandemic unfolds," said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health. "The country's much more prepared than we were a few short years ago for a pandemic, but there are some long-term underlying problems which complicate response efforts, like surge capacity and the need to modernize core public health issues like communications and surveillance capabilities."

The report said only 36.1 percent of adults were vaccinated last year against the seasonal flu, while almost 70 percent of seniors older than 65 are vaccinated annually for the seasonal flu. But only 24 percent of younger adults ages 18 to 49 get vaccinated, and H1N1 has been more severe, and sometimes lethal, in younger adults and children than in seniors.

If 35 percent of the country's population becomes sick from the flu, the report states that the number of those ill could range from a high of 12.9 million in California to a low of 186,434 in Wyoming. In Nevada, the estimated number of residents falling ill is 720,000 in the case of a severe pandemic.

Martha Framsted, spokeswoman for the Nevada Division of Health and Human Services, said the attack rate of H1N1 -- how virulent the virus will be -- is not known at this point.

"We're monitoring the hospital bed situation closely," she said. "We haven't seen anything out of the norm, and it's difficult at this point to ascertain if that scenario would play out. We don't have a crystal ball."

Gibbons' spokesman Dan Burns questioned the likelihood of 35 percent of the population in the U.S. contracting the flu at the same time and causing a hospital bed shortage for the state.

"There is a flu season," he said. "Not all people get the flu at once, and not all people who get the seasonal flu or H1N1 will have to be hospitalized."

The strain of H1N1 seen in the U.S. so far has been a mild form of the flu, and Burns said that although the illness still needs to be taken seriously, the state has an emergency plan in place should a pandemic occur and that H1N1 vaccine is being delivered "right now" to the state.

"Although the report you've seen and those numbers and figures are extremely daunting, what's most important is to ensure that businesses, schools and everyone is informed and prepared," he said.

The public can get detailed information and answers to their questions from Web sites at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Nevada Division of Health and Human Services and their local county health departments, Burns said.

"What this report tells us is that we need to be prepared," he said. "If you are prepared, you avoid panic."


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