Some question if state is overreacting to H1N1

May 4, 2009 6:47:34 PM PDT
Some are questioning whether state and federal officials are going overboard in the way they are battling the H1N1 flu.

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More than 8,000 students in the Bay Area had to stay home on Monday, leaving many working parents searching for childcare. Since most cases of the virus seem relatively minor, there's concern the state is overreacting.

The California Department of Health says the median age of a confirmed or probable case is 17 years old, so targeting schools makes sense.

The California Department of Education estimates about two dozen public schools have been closed statewide because of probable or confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus.

The state public health department insists while this flu outbreak appears mild, the precautions are necessary for a virus that's never been seen before.

"We don't know how it might mutate, how it might change and become more aggressive. We also know no one in the population has been exposed to this virus before. There's no immunity in the community," says Dr. Gil Chavez, M.D., from the California Center for Infectious Diseases.

More H1N1 cases will likely be diagnosed in California. The CDC gave the state the green light Friday night to test on its own, instead of waiting for the Atlanta agency to re-confirm the results. That means numbers should come out faster.

Of the testing so far, only 10 percent came back positive for Influenza A and of that, one third are probable or confirmed for the new H1N1 strain.

"We believe that we're probably seeing the tip of the iceberg. There are more cases out there that we are not seeing," says Dr. Chavez.

But given there have only been 10 hospitalizations statewide and no deaths in California, one noted epidemiologist thinks state leaders are overreacting.

"But I think that actually closing a whole school when one individual has been diagnosed with influenza is perhaps an overreaction at this particular time," says Professor Wayne Getz, Ph.D., from the U.C. Berkeley Department of Environmental Science.

The state says it has to be aggressive, first with schools by closing down campuses and now with prisons prohibiting visitors.

"We can actually see a second wave. And so I think that makes it more important for us to contain the number of cases and keep them to a minimum right now and allow time for vaccine development," says Dr. Chavez.

Public Health also gave counties guidelines on how to distribute the anti-viral drugs if necessary. High risk people are at the top of the list and clinicians will decide who gets them next.

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