Local health officials prepare to deal with H1N1 threat

By Jamel Major - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - The H1N1 virus, commonly referred to as Swine Flu, is now a pandemic.  Tuesday, officials at the Memphis-Shelby County Health Department said they were ready to deal with the virus.

"Our primary concern is spread, not severity," Dr. Kenneth Robinson said.

While H1N1 is expected to infect many more people this fall than the usual seasonal flu does, local health officials and the county government are on a mission to protect the public.

"In Memphis-Shelby County, if 30 to 50 percent of us get sick, that may be anywhere from 300,000 to 450,000 people in this county, so you can immediately see from the magnitude of the numbers why we're no longer counting cases," Robinson said.

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton said preparation would be the key in dealing with the flu's threat.

"Prepare, not panic.  That's our motto.  We can deal with this," Wharton said.

Officials say they are working on a plan which includes distribution of the H1N1 vaccine.
"There are a number of clinical trials going on in the US and other parts of the world to effectively approve the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine," said Dr. Richard Webby of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

While the Health Department waits for its share of the vaccine, officials say their primary goal will be to schools and businesses running.

"Since this is now a pandemic and we anticipate that children, adults, parents, many people will get the flu, the objective this fall will be not to shut down all the schools," Robinson said.

Local health officials are urging everyone to be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus once the vaccine is available.  Officials said the initial distribution of the vaccine may not occur until mid-October.

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