Good News, Bad News on Swine Flu

Deaths Increase, but So Do Number Immunized

County Health officials reported that roughly 30 percent of the county’s population has now been immunized-either through vaccines or through exposure-to the H1N1 virus, a.k.a. swine flu, thus slowing the rate of increase. Thirty percent is the threshold at which “herd immunity” is said to occur.

[Herd immunity occurs when a high percentage of a population is immune to a disease, essentially stopping the spread of disease because new hosts are difficult to find. It is also referred to as “community immunity.” In addition to being used in disease prevention, community immunity is also utilized to fight ongoing outbreaks.]

To date, county health officials have distributed about 10,000 vaccines via the various health clinics throughout the county, and private doctors have dispensed another 55,000. County health officials are expecting that another 60,000 vaccines will be made available by the end of December. That would take the percentage of immunized individuals well past the 50 percent mark.

During the last two weeks of November, two additional deaths were reported in connection with the swine flu, bringing the county total thus far to five. On November 27, a 25-year old male died after a 20-day hospitalization. On November 28, a 52-year-old female died after spending only a few days in the hospital. (Both individuals were Santa Barbara residents, so presumably they stayed at Cottage Hospital.) The three prior deaths involved a 15-year-old female, a four-year-old male, and an 82-year-old female. County health officials reported seven swine flu patients were hospitalized during the last two weeks of November, bringing the total number of individuals hospitalized since the swine flu epidemic started to 54.

Most of those reporting the flu are younger; only 12 of the 54 hospitalized were 40 years or older. In addition, 61 percent of those hospitalized were female. Although county officials have expressed relief that the rate of spread has slowed down, they stressed that swine flu remains an epidemic throughout Santa Barbara County and the state.

Santa Barbara County’s incidence of swine flu is 12.9 per 100,000 people, versus 18.8 per 100,000 statewide.

County health officials confirmed anecdotal accounts suggesting that Santa Barbara emergency rooms saw intense activity the last week, up by about 1,000 visits from the week before. While that’s high, it is not a record or even the highest for the past year. Of those, six percent of the admissions were for the flu. That percentage has been relatively constant.

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