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Flu prompts concerns other than health-based

As the H1N1 virus continues to spread nationwide, local schools continue to experience absences eclipsing the 100 mark and Halloween events are canceled, community health director Chris Broeker worries that the fatalities reported have overshadowed the fact that many people are successfully recovering from the virus.

"The things you see on the news are scary," she said. "A lot of people have H1N1. It's widespread. And most people are recovering from this but what we hear about are the people that don't recover, that are having trouble with it. It's something we have to be concerned about, clearly, but a lot of people are getting better."

It is the unknown that is driving the caution, she said.

And with the quickly changing landscape, comes a flood of opinions and trends related to the flu. Among them are:

-An op-ed piece in the New York Times questions the necessity of giving women a full dose of the H1N1 vaccine, asserting "women's bodies generate a stronger antibody response than men's do, research shows, so less vaccine may be needed to immunize them."

The article suggests that giving women a smaller dose would make the scarce supply of vaccines available to more of the population.

"Any of the vaccines we've ever given have not differentiated between gender," Broeker said.

-An article in the Washington Post suggests that the closer the nation comes to pandemic status, the more taxed the Internet becomes.

Parents staying home with sick kids, and the sick kids themselves, are all using the Internet from home, pressuring local area networks, and that could tax the telecommunications system as a whole.

The Post cites a Government Accountability Office report that maintains "if the flu reaches a pandemic, a surge in telecommuting and children accessing video files and games at home could bog down local networks.

According to the Post, the Department of Homeland Security it "doesn't have a strategy to deal with overloaded Internet networks -- an essential resource to keep the economy humming, and residents informed and connected during a pandemic, the GAO said."

Officials at Arvig Communications did not return calls seeking information as to whether local network usage has been up, correlating with massive local school absences.

-A report Wednesday on Minnesota Public Radio quoted Minnesota doctors concerned that people stricken with H1N1 may be inadvertently spreading the virus because they don't have the classic fever symptoms associated with this flu strain.

"It appears a lot of people with the H1N1 flu do not experience a fever, and the absence of a fever could mean they are not taking enough precautions to prevent transmitting the virus to others," MPR reported.

"We've had no direction to change our symptom criteria from the Department of Health, so so far what we're looking for, fever is the number one thing," Broeker maintained. "That's interesting. I suppose it's possible that someone would have the virus and not have the fever, but I don't know."

-The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Thursday that an unapproved drug saved the life of a seriously ill teenager last month.

"On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration took the unusual step of making (Peramivir) available to hospitals across the country for emergency use in just such cases," the paper reported.

"Peramivir is similar to other antivirals, such as Tamiflu. What makes it unique is that it can be given intravenously. Other, similar drugs have to be swallowed or inhaled with an inhaler, and are widely used both in and out of hospitals."

Broeker said she's almost reluctant to comment on trends, because they seem so fleeting. Every day, every hour, brings changing news on the flu front, she said.

"The minute I say something, it's wrong."

The region may see more H1N1 vaccine, but when is the $64,000 question.

"When we see it we'll see it," Broeker said. "They're still distributing vaccine based on a pre-order (basis). We've pre-ordered some of this vaccine. They call it pre-booking. And they've selected agencies, hospitals and public health agencies and some groups that take care of high-risk patients are put in kind of a random drawing and they draw your number," she said.

"In order to be fair, to have enough for everybody they're giving us some based on our pre-booking and we're being randomly selected. I don't know how they do that but we did get a small amount of vaccine last week in Hubbard County and we gave it to people. Hopefully we'll get more soon."