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Swine flu has peaked locally; officials warn a third wave is possible

December 1, 2009 |  1:19 pm

Los Angeles County public health officials today announced that H1N1 flu has likely peaked locally, but they cautioned that a third wave of flu outbreaks is still possible.

Dr. Takashi Wada, Pasadena’s public health director and health officer, said he is particularly concerned about the influx of visitors during the holidays and Rose Bowl.

“We’re encouraging everyone, not just local residents but visitors, to get the vaccine as soon as possible,” he said, adding that it takes a few weeks after inoculation to develop immunity to H1N1 flu.

Wada estimated that about 70,000 people are among those most at risk of catching the flu citywide, and he said that Pasadena officials ordered 150,000 doses of vaccine but so far had received only 20,000. Appeals to state officials for help have been unsuccessful, said Wada, who has turned to other area cities and counties to get additional vaccine. Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health, for example, is providing vaccine for a clinic at the Rose Bowl on Dec. 6.

Countywide, a complete list of the dozen H1N1 clinics scheduled from Dec. 4 to Dec. 8 (the last planned) was posted this morning on the Department of Public Health website. Clinic sites include the Martin Luther King outpatient clinic, Long Beach City College, the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds and the Rose Bowl, among others. In addition, Long Beach Health Department officials have scheduled a clinic today for youth ages 3 to 18. It will be held from 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. Plans call for each clinic to distribute 3,000 doses of vaccine, officials said.

Local school districts have also planned clinics in coming weeks, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, although locations have not been announced, according to Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding, the county’s director of public health.

After the county clinics end, officials will shift to distributing almost all of the vaccine they receive from the federal government through private providers, Fielding said. However, he said, those at risk who do not have medical insurance or a doctor will still be able to get vaccinated at existing county clinics.

Fielding said the county has no plans to publicly list which private providers have ordered and received H1N1 vaccine, because state and county records are not current enough to ensure that those listed would still have vaccine.

Health officials said they believe that H1N1 flu peaked in L.A. County in late October and early November but that an upsurge in flu cases is still possible in coming weeks.

As of this week, L.A. County had received 1.4 million doses of the vaccine, far less than what was expected to treat an estimated 5.5 million people in the groups considered most at risk of catching the flu. Those priority groups include pregnant women, caregivers of infants under 6 months old, healthcare workers, those between 6 months and 24 years old and those age 25 to 64 with chronic health problems.

Persistent manufacturing shortages have kept vaccine supplies low. About 175,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed at county-sponsored clinics, Fielding said.

After a county report last month showed few African Americans were getting vaccinated, Fielding said his office increased outreach with radio and leaflet campaigns through black churches and other community groups.

Fewer positive flu tests and emergency room visits were reported in L.A. County during the most recent week available, Nov. 15 to 21, according to public health records. During the same week, there were seven flu outbreaks, five at elementary schools and two at high schools. Since the beginning of the pandemic in April, there have been 97 H1N1-related deaths countywide.

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

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