October 14, 2009
Van Wert County Emergency Management Director Rick McCoy became the latest area health official to raise concern about the H1N1 virus when he predicted that county could see a rapid increase in flu cases — and perhaps its first H1N1 case — in the next two weeks.
Such comments continue to be met with skepticism by many who remember the epidemic of fear being spread in recent years with the West Nile virus and the bird flu. People wonder if they truly should be afraid, or if health officials are being overly cautious. In many cases, talk for the need of a national vaccine is falling on deaf ears.
That is the problem health officials have created for themselves: People don’t know when to take them seriously. It’s the old tale of “crying wolf.”
In Allen County, there have been five reported cases of H1N1, two of which involved children. In each case, the infected person recovered in days.
The H1N1 virus has yet to be proved more of a threat than the common flu, which still kills only a miniscule percentage of the population every year. The Ohio Department of Health doesn’t have the funds or manpower to test every flu case that comes through every doctor’s office in the state. That leaves a lot of sick people unsure if they have swine flu or one of the common strains that go around at this time every year. McCoy said the state is only testing flu cases that come from hospitals and areas with a cluster of flu outbreaks.
For the most part, it doesn’t really matter. The flu symptoms are the same. The same populations are mostly at risk. The best defenses apply to both. The treatments for both are the same.
Getting vaccinated might be a good idea, especially for high-risk groups: the elderly, pregnant women, those with health problems and young people. But the government needn’t scare people with talk of mandatory vaccinations. The ultimate decision lies in the hands of the individual. Such decisions need to be made with as much knowledge as possible. Each person will live with the consequences of deciding whether to take the vaccine and accept the risks that go with it, or forgo vaccination and accept the risk of catching a possibly fatal virus.
Meanwhile, one preventive measure that can’t be argued with is the need for basic hygiene: washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or elbow and avoiding contact with others if they or you have flu symptoms.