Ukraine Flu Outbreak Lessons Eyed Locally

A local doctor says lessons can be learned from Ukraine’s experience with the swine, or H1N1, flu virus.

According to the World Health Organization, Ukraine’s Health Ministry has recorded 250,000 flu-like cases of illness as of Nov. 2, with 70 deaths due to respiratory illness. WHO researchers have identified H1N1 as the main virus causing the high rates of illness in the country.

The group also noted this week the virus has not mutated, and it is “similar to the virus used for production of” the swine flu vaccine.

Dr. William Mercer, Wheeling-Ohio County health officer, said there may be some lessons learned from the Ukraine. The country only has the seasonal flu vaccine available for its people, which is not effective against the H1N1 virus.

“They have no swine flu vaccine. It may show what can happen. … Our health care system is much better here,” Mercer said.

He noted the more people who are vaccinated, the better, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is estimating half of the United States’ population will become infected with H1N1. To date, about 22 million have had the disease, he added.

“That’s still a lot of people to get sick,” Mercer said, estimating the swine flu will be around for the next one to two years.

The CDC said during the first week of November, the number of people seeking a doctor’s care for flu-like illnesses decreased. Whether inoculating people has already had an impact on the number of illnesses would be difficult to determine, as during any flu season there are often peaks of illness, Mercer said.

“This is the second week of national decreases in influenza-like illness after four consecutive weeks of sharp increases. … While influenza-like illness declined overall nationally, visits to doctors for influenza-like illness remain higher than what is seen during the peak of many regular flu seasons,” the CDC states.