In raw numbers, it's estimated that about 18,000 people will get the swine flu this season in San Joaquin County, Health Officer Karen Furst and other health officials said at a press conference this afternoon.
What's different about the swine flu is the people it hits the hardest, children and young adults with normally robust immunity systems. Already this year, six people in San Joaquin County have died from the swine flu virus that took no summer vacation, as the seasonal flu normally does, including a 5-year-old girl; a 34-year-old man; a 64-year-old woman; a 59-year-old man; a 26-year-old man; and a 49-year-old man.
Those at the greatest risk though, are pregnant women, kids under 5, and those with chronic medical conditions.
Furst and doctor Thomas Mahoney, who heads Community Medical Centers Inc. that runs clinics such as Tracy Family Practice and others, said there's no need to panic, but that the virus is a greater threat than the seasonal flu.
“It is important for people to pay attention and take this virus seriously,” Furst said.
Furst and Mahoney said the vast majority of people who get the swine flu will have only mild symptoms and recover on their own.
But if symptoms such as an inability to breathe, vomiting, bluish skin, disorientation or chest pains persist or get worse, people are advised to see a doctor right away.
Furst also “strongly encourages” the public to get vaccinated, though there is a limited amount of vaccines that are ready today.
The health officer said about 40 doctors offices, mostly pediatricians, and a few others have received a shipment of the first batch of vaccines, which as nasal spray available only for those 9 and under. Two doses, either shots when they become ready or of the nasal spray, is enough to immunize kids 9 and under. Those 10 and older need only one shot or nasal spray dose, Furst said.
Furst said it could take three months before enough vaccines are produced to protect all the target groups most at risk from the swine flu.
And because of swine flu production, doctors in San Joaquin County and around the country have seen a delay in getting the season flu vaccines.
But Furst and Mahoney stressed people can help prevent the spread of the disease by staying home from school or work when sick, by coughing or sneezing into their arms rather than their hands, and by frequently washing hands.
At the Sutter Tracy Community Hospital emergency room, and at the Tracy Family Practice, masks are available for visitors. Soon they'll be on hand at kiosks all over the hospital, said Sutter's Tammy Shaff.
There are also signs about the swine flu at hospital entrances.
Those who have flu-like symptoms are asked to stay home rather than visit sick people and risk spreading the virus.
Mahoney said all the talk of how to stem the spread of the swine flu also applies to other viruses, so presumably fewer people will get disease.
“That's one of the silver linings,” he said.