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State health officials prepare for more flu

Thu., July 9, 2009, 3 p.m.

SEATTLE — This spring’s swine flu outbreak hasn’t gone away in Washington state despite the summer weather, but health officials have a new challenge to focus on: preparing for next fall’s flu season, Washington Health Secretary Mary Selecky said Thursday.

People are still sick and recovering in Washington hospitals, with new cases reported each week. Since mid-April, 98 people have been hospitalized with the H1N1 virus in Washington and four people have died.

Selecky was in Bethesda, Md., Thursday, with representatives from emergency mamanagement and the state education department, for a national briefing on swine flu preparation for the fall. She said the takeaway message was make sure you’re ready for a very busy fall flu season.

“We already are very engaged with our local and tribal health partners for the work that needs to be done to get ready for what could be mass vaccination campaigns,” Selecky said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

She was pleased with the high level of attention swine flu continues to get in the nation’s capitol despite the country’s pressing economic problems. Cabinet members briefed health directors from around the country and President Barack Obama called in from the G-8 summit in Italy.

A swine flu vaccine is still being tested, so health officials do not know yet if the H1N1 vaccine will require one or two doses. People should be ready to get either two or three flu shots this fall, Selecky said.

Who gets a shot will depend on availability of the vaccines and who federal health officials believe are the prime candidates for a severe case of swine flu.

Selecky encourages everyone to get a seasonal flu shot as soon as it becomes available in late summer or early fall — because the regular winter flu kills 36,000 Americans a year — and then wait to hear who will be getting the first swine flu shots when they start arriving in October.

The first doses of the H1N1 vaccine will go to health workers, school employees, young children and people with underlying health problems like asthma.

“There won’t be enough for everybody,” she said.

And Selecky wants Washington residents to keep washing their hands, covering their coughs and staying home from work or camp when they’re sick.

While passing through Seattle Tacoma International Airport Wednesday, Selecky received confirmation that people are hearing her department’s health messages.

“Someone came up to me and said, ’Aren’t you the person who was on TV telling us to wash our hands,”’ she said.

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