Kentucky is suffering from widespread H1N1 flu activity, but it has only enough vaccine to inoculate 1 percent to 2 percent of the state's population, according to state officials. The supply might not catch up to demand until December or January.
Meanwhile, the state is seeing spot shortages and delays in delivery of seasonal flu vaccine.
State epidemiologist Kraig Humbaugh said in a telephone briefing that the state has been allocated 149,900 doses of the H1N1 vaccine, with 73,000 doses shipped. About 60 percent of that is nasal spray, and 40 percent is in injectable form.
"We ask that folks still be patient," he said. "We know the process is working. .... One of the downsides of that is that we just don't have a lot of vaccine yet."
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Humbaugh said the state doesn't expect a lot of H1N1 vaccine until November, and even then it will be for people in high-risk groups — health care workers, children and young adults ages 6 months to 24 years, those with chronic health conditions ages 25 to 64, pregnant women and caregivers or household contacts of those 6 months or younger.
The severity of the H1N1 flu is comparable to that of the seasonal flu, he said, and most who are infected are recovering without treatment. Symptoms are similar for both, although Humbaugh said H1N1 cases often include a tendency toward more vomiting and diarrhea.
"If people are sick, they should contact their health provider," Humbaugh said in response to a question about a Georgetown man who died from H1N1 on Oct. 3 but apparently never felt sick enough to contact a doctor.
The health care provider might assess a patient's symptoms and simply tell him to stay home. Those with emergency symptoms — which include labored breathing or chest pain — might be sent to the emergency room.
Most of the flu Kentucky is seeing is the H1N1 variety, Humbaugh said, with a rise in the number of cases of seasonal flu expected in six to eight weeks. "There's been a stronger demand for seasonal flu vaccine, and an earlier demand," he said.
Vaccines allotted to the state are dispersed to regional health care providers, who then decide who gets the vaccine first. The Green River District Health Department in Owensboro, for example, could offer the vaccine by next week to college students, with other members of the public having to wait a couple more weeks. The health department's reasoning is that college students live in the close-contact environment of dormitories.
The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department will host a series of weekend clinics in November and December for residents who want to receive the H1N1 vaccine. The vaccination will be free.
Fayette County has the largest number of confirmed H1N1 cases in the state, at 146 out of 763. Jefferson County trails significantly, at 101. The state emphasizes that those numbers represent only a small sample of the total cases of flu.