Guarding against the flu
About 30,000 Americans die annually from variable winter flu strains, against which many of us get flu shots each fall. It is likely that more Americans will be affected by the flu this winter than has been customary, and perhaps more will die from the combination of winter flu and the H1N1 virus. But it appears more and more likely that mortality from the familiar winter flu and from the virus commonly called swine flu will not be extraordinarily greater than in normal winters. Preventative measures as well as the vaccine are critical.
Vaccines which can defeat the H1N1 flu are likely to be available in significant quantities nationwide next month. Federal health officials are taking steps to speed the vaccine into a distribution system that reaches people in target segments of the population as quickly as possible.
The New York Times has reported that "In the initial outbreaks last spring, an estimated 800,000 New Yorkers, 10 percent of the city's population, developed symptoms attributed to the swine flu virus. Only 54 died - an encouragingly low death rate. Most infected people got better without medical treatment." One hopes that experience holds proportionally true for the nation as a whole, and for us on Martha's Vineyard.
It is encouraging to see the cooperation and careful planning under way in the Vineyard community, among health care providers and public health officials, to prepare for the flu season, including planning for the distribution of flu vaccine, but also for the distribution of helpful information about ways to keep the flu at bay and what one should do if symptoms appear.
It is especially encouraging to see this week an effort by the Martha's Vineyard Hospital to reach directly to part of the Vineyard community that is at times estranged from the flow of important public information, because of language barriers, cultural isolation, and questions concerning residency status.
The hospital's decision to offer advice and the assurance of needed medical care to members of the Brazilian population, in their own language, is commendable, in advance of what may be a trying off-season of illness and discomfort. Members of the Vineyard's Brazilian population need this information, just as we all do, to ward off the flu virus and to fight the symptoms when they occur. The determination on the part of the hospital, the Vineyard's health care centerpiece and the organization that must lead the Island response to the flu threat, to support all the efforts directed at prevention and treatment in all the segments of the community is welcome and heartening.
A Martha's Vineyard Times Newsmakers discussion, this time about ways to control the growth of the disease-bearing tick population, will take place Monday, September 28.
Sam Telford, associate professor of infectious diseases at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and a veteran tick researcher, will speak about the steps Island land managers and policy makers might take to reduce the numbers of deer ticks and thus reduce the risk to Islanders and visitors of the debilitating and sometimes fatal diseases for which ticks are vectors.
The Times, with the support of several Island organizations and as part of its ongoing Newsmaker series, has invited Mr. Telford to discuss his research and suggestions with conservation, land use planning, and public health leaders. Members of all six of the Island boards of health and conservation commissions, and the public, are invited. The discussion, at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury, will begin at 6:30 pm.
Mr. Telford's presentation is co-sponsored by Vineyard Golf Club Foundation, Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust, and Sheriff's Meadow Foundation, and the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, whose chief executive, Tim Walsh, says he regards such sponsorship opportunities, as well as the effort to furnish information to members of the Brazilian community, as important occasions for the hospital to extend its outreach to Islanders on a variety of health-related issues.