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State holds flu summit on Internet

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State, local and tribal health officials in 71 locations across Montana participated in an influenza summit Tuesday via the Internet and heard Gov. Brian Schweitzer and top state health officials discuss the state's planning and response to the virus.

Called a Webinar, the meeting saved travel costs and enabled people to see and hear the various speakers on their computer screens. They in turn could e-mail questions to the speakers in Helena. Health officials from Dillon to Scobey and from Libby to Wibaux took part, the governor said.

Schweitzer gave a brief pep talk before leaving the event and letting the state health experts discuss the H1N1, or swine flu, vaccine situation.

He led off by squirting some hand sanitizer onto his hands, saying he had touched some door knobs on the way from his office in the Capitol to the Cogswell Building.

Nearly 50,000 doses of the swine flu vaccine have arrived in Montana so far, he said, urging people to get vaccinated for the H1N1 flu as more vaccines become available.

About half of the 50,000 H1N1 vaccine doses have been administered to the targeted groups here, said Anna Whiting Sorrell, director of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

"We want to assure you we are ordering all we can order," Sorrell said. "Be patient."

At present, the H1N1 vaccines are targeted for pregnant women, parents or caretakers for children younger than six months old, health and emergency care providers, people between six months through 24 years old and those from ages 25 to 64 years old with chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Schweitzer said there is no shortage of the regular seasonal flu vaccines and urged people to get them.

He thanked all the people working around the state on the planning and delivery of the different flu vaccines.

Schweitzer urged people to stay home if they are sick and not spread the germs at their workplace or school.

"It isn't brave to show up anymore sick," Schweitzer

said. "Stay home, watch soap operas, spend a little time on the Internet. Stay home a few days."

Through Monday, laboratories had confirmed that 569 people in Montana had the H1N1 flu virus, including at least two pregnant women, said Dr. Steve Helgerson, the state medical officer.

Twenty-three people have been hospitalized so far with this flu, he said.

"Sadly, six persons have died," Helgerson said. Five were adults and one was an infant.

He said the national goal is to vaccinate all Americans who wish to be vaccinated for H1N1 flu.

On top of the nearly 50,000 H1N1 vaccine doses already shipped here, Montana expects 25,000 more doses next week, Helgerson said. The state ships out vaccines around the state on a weekly basis.

One participant asked Helgerson if the H1N1 virus would subside in the next few months.

"Nobody knows for sure, but we're likely to have experience with this virus for some time," the state medical officer said.

Sorrell said the federal government, through

the Centers for Disease Control, began funding health emergency preparedness through grants to state, local and tribal governments eight years ago.

"I'm really glad we began planning eight years ago, "she said.


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