H1N1 flu at epidemic level in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA - October 26, 2009

Dr. Donald Schwarz, the city health commissioner, says influenza activity has increased rapidly over the past two weeks, with visits to emergency departments doubling in the past week alone.

However, Dr. Schwarz says many ER visitors and those filling doctors' offices may not need to be there. He says most cases are fairly mild - although the sufferer may never have experienced flu before. And he says they don't require a doctor's attention.

"This form of the influenza virus is not particularly severe," said Dr. Schwarz at a City Hall news conference.

"Someone who has a fever, a child with a fever, with a runny nose, cough, sore throat does not necessarily need to see a health care professional."

However, the doctor says anyone in the high-risk groups - pregnant women, infants, and younger people with chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes - should see a doctor if they catch the flu.

Dr. Schwarz expects this flu to stay at epidemic levels for 4 to 6 weeks before slowing down. And he says a rise in the seasonal flu is still a real possibility.

The city has thus far received about 75,000 of the 500,000 expected doses of H1N1 vaccine.

He expressed hope the seasonal flu vaccine will be back in good supply in November, when the first cases of seasonal flu begin to appear. He says the city is relaxing its policies, allowing workers to come back to work without a doctor's excuse, if it's up to 5 days after they got sick. And policies are relaxed for parents and those who need to care for sick children.

Dr. Schwarz says health authorities are somewhat concerned about the spread of H1N1 with the World Series and the Eagles-Giants this week. But he says H1N1 isn't serious enough to ruin the fun.

" I imagine there are people who will go to the World Series if they are near death," he says with a smile. "But we are not going to screen them, or keep them out of the airport, or screen them or keep them out of hotels."

Dr. Schwarz says the emphasis will be on reminding spectators to carry hand sanitizers, use tissues and handkerchiefs for sneezes and coughs, and to wash their hands often.

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