H1N1 cases beginning to dwindle

ADDISON COUNTY — The hospital and doctors’ offices in Addison County are enjoying the calm after the storm, after the number of cases of the H1N1 “swine” flu has reportedly tapered off over the last two weeks.
Vermont Health Commissioner Wendy Davis last week said the swine flu outbreak appeared to be waning in the state, though she warned that the illness could return in another wave and urged “high risk” patients to get vaccinated.
Still, the flu virus is keeping county healthcare providers — especially family practices and pediatricians’ offices — plenty busy.
“We always see increased activity when flu season hits,” said Heidi Prime, the office manager at the Little City Family Practice in Vergennes. This year, though, “it has been insane.”
Prior to last week, Prime estimated that 90 percent of the calls the office received were from people with flu symptoms.
“You couldn’t get through on our phone lines two weeks ago,” she said.
At Mountain Health in Bristol, office manager Kim Farnsworth agreed that the peak of illnesses seemed to hit two or three weeks ago.
Now, though, the number of calls has dropped off, and Prime guessed that roughly 50 percent of the queries the practice receives are about the flu. Many of those cases are being handled by telephone.
“We’re trying to do some triage in advance to keep people isolated,” Prime said. That’s meant talking to patients about their symptoms and often helping by phone instead of bringing a patient into the doctors’ office. It’s the “high risk” patients, like those experiencing shortness of breath or other more troublesome symptoms, that doctors are recommending come in for additional care.
Prime also said that the practice has adjusted its schedule to make sure there are more spots for “acute” appointments that crop up on short notice. That’s meant keeping a healthcare provider’s schedule free to help deal with patients who call up for an emergency consultation.
It’s in part because offices like Little City Family Practice have been on the front lines of flu defense that Porter Hospital has seen relatively little H1N1 action. Spokesman Ron Hallman speculated that Porter may not be fielding many cases of the flu in its emergency room because patients are seeking out their family practice doctors instead, though Vice President for Patient Care Services Pat Jannene said that the hospital a few weeks ago was seeing more patients exhibiting flu-like illness than usual for that time of year.
“That seems to have really dropped way off over the last few weeks,” Jannene said.
The hospital is continuing to receive H1N1 vaccines from the state, and those vaccines are being administered to patients in some of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “priority groups” through primary care doctors.
Jannene also said that almost all of the schools in the county have hosted vaccination clinics at this point, and many of the county’s children received the vaccine at school. She believes the hospital has also administered the vaccine to nearly all of the pregnant women in the county, and has reached out to daycare providers, members of local rescue squads, dentists and hospital employees who have contact with patients.
Addison County Home Health and Hospice will host the next vaccination clinic in the county next week on Tuesday, Dec. 15, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Vergennes Eagles Club. The clinic will administer the vaccine to individuals in the “priority” group, which includes pregnant women, medical professionals, children and young adults age six months to 24 years, adults up to 64 years old with chronic medical conditions, and caretakers for young infants.
But the mad dash for the vaccine has died down — so much so that Jannene said recent clinics in Brandon and Middlebury had leftover doses of the vaccine.
“People have realized that the normal healthy person is (not at serious risk),” Jannene said. “The pressure is off.”

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