The nation’s swept up in a second flu season this year, and public health officials are warning summer camp counselors to keep an eye out for sick kids, and some camps are closing.
The swine flu – a form of influenza Type A, subtype H1N1 – isn’t letting up in the United States, two months after the first reported outbreak and long after seasonal flu should have pretty much disappeared. Some parts of the state and country are reporting flu rates typical to those in the dead of winter.
“There are people that unfortunately feel that this has gone away. But the levels of H1N1 continue to be pretty high,” said Gilbert Chavez, deputy director of the center for infectious diseases with the California Department of Public Health. “It’s a time when people are not thinking influenza and may not be protecting themselves.”
The swine flu virus is a mostly mild form of influenza, infectious disease experts said. There have been more than 21,000 confirmed or probable cases in the United States and 1,300 in California, where nine people have died after contracting the virus, including a Sonoma County man who died Friday. Public health experts said the fatality rate is about the same as with typical seasonal flu.
But there’s no doubt this is an atypical virus, experts said. The number of influenza cases usually drops off fast around mid-May, but this year there have been about as many cases in the middle of June as there were in the middle of April – and twice as many cases as is normal for this time of year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The illness is also hitting more children and young adults. Roughly two-thirds of those infected have been younger than 25, according to the CDC. No one knows exactly why young people are more affected, although infectious disease experts say it’s likely that older people have been exposed to a virus similar to the swine flu and have some natural immunity to it.
Early on, public health experts declared that the virus had spread far enough across the United States that closing schools wouldn’t help contain the disease. The same rule applies to summer camps and other places where youths might gather while they’re out of school.
The CDC has issued special guidelines for summer camps dealing with the swine flu, which can spread easily among campers living in close quarters and eating at communal tables. The most important rule: As soon as children are symptomatic, they should be isolated from other campers.
On Friday, the Muscular Dystrophy Association announced it was canceling its summer camp programs because of the swine flu. About 1,800 children had already attended a camp, and 17 of those children have possible swine flu infections.
At least one Bay Area camp has canceled some of its summer sessions because of a swine flu outbreak among staff members. Camp Newman-Swig in Santa Rosa closed before any children arrived after the directors decided they didn’t have enough healthy staff members to run the activities. About 25 out of 170 staff members have been sick.
“The health department has not expressed a concern about the spread,” said Rabbi Elliott Kleinman of the Union for Reform Judaism, which runs the summer camp. “We made that decision (to close) because we are so focused on doing the right kind of programming for our kids. We felt that we had to drop back a little bit and regroup.”
Because people aren’t used to protecting themselves from the flu this time of year, public health officials said parents should take extra precautions to keep their children healthy – especially reminding them to wash their hands frequently.
Concord mother Barbara Kitting has been especially protective of her children since a girl who went to school with her daughter died after contracting swine flu. Her 10-year-old daughter, Aundria Rivera, is holding a garage sale this week to raise money for her classmate’s family, and it’s been nice to see the community come together, Kitting said.
At the same time, she said swine flu is a bit of a taboo topic in her neighborhood.
“If a child gets sick, it’s like parents automatically hide them. If we don’t see Jason or Tyler or Susie down the street, we assume it’s swine flu or they’re sick,” Kitting said. “We don’t talk about it, but we’re all thinking about it.”