S. Oregon looks to Salem for help on flu

Public health officials in Jackson and Josephine counties are seeking help from the state to manage the H1N1 influenza outbreak.

Josephine County commissioners declared a county state of emergency Friday, while Jackson County public health officials said they will ask the Board of Commissioners to seek a state emergency declaration at its regular meeting on Oct. 28.

Both routes are intended to help the counties get additional resources such as vaccine if the flu situation overwhelms the local medical community, said Dr. Jim Shames, medical officer for both counties.

"We have lots more cases," Shames said. "We continue to have lots of kids out of school and very full emergency departments."

Shames said the counties chose their own separate ways to seek state help. He said a state emergency declaration could help Jackson County get extra medical staff or funding to treat influenza patients.

He noted that many health-care workers are ill themselves, and hospital emergency departments are continuing to see 30 to 40 percent more patients than average.

Shames said vaccine for the H1N1 virus remains scarce, and the next shipment is not expected until Oct. 28 or 29. Vaccine for the seasonal influenza will not arrive until late November. The county health department had no H1N1 vaccine as of Friday.

Josephine County's emergency declaration came as the county recorded its second confirmed influenza death. Belle Shepherd, Josephine County's public health director, said tests indicated a woman over age 60 who died last week had the H1N1 virus. Medical privacy laws prevent release of the woman's name or other information.

A 41-year-old Josephine County woman who died last week in Grants Pass was that county's first confirmed victim of H1N1 virus, health officials announced Wednesday.

Shames said processing H1N1 tests can take days, and the state testing lab has been overwhelmed with samples.

Another Josephine County resident, Zachary Painter, 32, was in critical condition with the virus Friday at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, along with Jacquelyn Cordero of Medford.

Beth DePew, Jackson County's director of hospital preparedness, said about 40 people were in Jackson County hospitals with influenza-like symptoms. DePew said there were nine beds available in the intensive-care unit Friday, a dramatic improvement over earlier in the week, when just two ICU beds were unoccupied.

Shames said data about the precise number of influenza hospitalizations and deaths in each county has fluctuated from day to day because information arrives at the Department of Human Services from many different sources. In the early stages of the outbreak there was not a compelling reason to announce every death that might be related to the H1N1 virus, or testing everyone with flu-like symptoms to determine whether they were infected with H1N1.

For example, the death of a man in Medford on Sept. 13 was reported to the state for H1N1 data, but it was not treated as a news event when the outbreak was in its early stages. Another person who had a Jackson County post office box died of what appeared to be H1N1 early in the summer, but that death also was not reported by the news media.

State officials use a person's county of residence for death for data purposes, not where he or she died. So the Klamath County man who died at Rogue Valley Medical Center in July is counted as a Klamath County death, even though he died in Medford.

Compiling statistics is complicated because the data changes daily and sometimes hourly.

"Depending on where you look," Shames said, "and how official that site is, you can find different numbers. A year from now they'll all probably come out the same."

Numbers vary widely from day to day. Jackson County data compiled as of Wednesday indicated there have been 50 confirmed H1N1 hospitalizations. State data released Friday reported 70 H1N1 hospitalizations in Jackson County.

Shames said Southern Oregon has seen more of the H1N1 illness than other parts of the state, "but I have no doubt everyone (in other regions) will get their fair share before this is over."

Reach reporter Bill Kettler at 776-4492 or e-mail bkettler@mailtribune.com.

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