County health officer addresses swine flu concerns

Health officials are predicting that one in three Americans will come down with swine flu by the end of the year.

The good news is the vast majority of those people will experience little more than a fever, chills and headache, said Dr. Jim Shames, the Jackson County Health officer.

Shames spoke to around 100 people Tuesday evening at the Smullin Center on the Rogue Valley Medical Center campus.

Topics included a swine flu vaccine that could reach the Rogue Valley in mid-October and ways to avoid spreading the H1N1 virus.

Shames kept the mood light for most of the discussion. He started by poking fun at the term "swine flu."

"I'm sure there's a horse flu or a porpoise flu," Shames said. "There is probably a virus for nearly every animal."

What makes the swine flu different from most strains is that it has killed or hospitalized more people in the 25- to 49-year-old age range than those over 65.

"Relatively young people end up being hospitalized with this," Shames said. "Most years the people who succumb to influenza are over the age of 65."

The theory is that older people might have somehow developed a tolerance to the H1N1 virus over the years.

Nevertheless, health officials believe one out of three Americans will be stricken sometime this year.

In all, 593 people in the U.S. have died from the swine flu. The disease has spread to every state and has hospitalized 9,079 Americans. Most of them, however, have had underlying medical conditions that enhance the flu's symptoms, Shames said.

The flu has killed 12 Oregonians and hospitalized 113.

Shames preached tried-and-true rules for avoiding the swine flu.

"Be sure to wash your hands regularly," Shames said. "Cover your cough and stay at home if you're sick."

Shames expects the vaccine to be popular when it arrives. Certain groups will be given priority when the vaccine is made available. They include pregnant women, health care providers, children and young adults age 24 to 65 who have medical conditions that put them at risk for influenza-related complications.

Some of the evening was spent dispelling swine flu myths. Shames said there has been a lot of misinformation concerning the flu.

"You can't get it by eating pork," he said. "In fact, a pig could sneeze on you and you won't get swine flu."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

Share This Story