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Swine flu down, but not out

The spread of the H1N1 has largely subsided in Utah, one of the hardest hit states in the worldwide pandemic, but fall could be a different story, Dr. David Sundwall, executive director of state Department of Health told lawmakers Wednesday morning.

There are currently no active cases, but more than 200 Utahns were hospitalized, and 17 died from complications due to the new strain of influenza, which public health officials say will continue to mutate and strengthen in the next few months, Sundwall said.

Exactly how severe the expected outbreak will be is simply not known, Sundwall said. "It might be much ado about not very much, but the precautions of staying home when sick and covering sneezes and hand washing remain an effective way to prevent its spread."

Robert Rolfs, new head of disease control and prevention, told members of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Interim Committee that seasonal flu shots are recommended, and that a new H1N1 vaccine is in production. Receiving that vaccine is voluntary and will involve two separate injections, he said.

One mitigating factor in protecting the population, particularly school children, is the lack of school nurses, who are often the first people sought out by a sick child. Utah's nurse/student ratio is one of the country's worst with one per 5,000 students.

The lack of nurses could well be showcased this fall, Sundwall said, noting again that the local health departments and school officials are refining illness recognition and response plans.

e-mail: jthalman@desnews.com