State officials are urging Kentucky's school superintendents to start planning now for the possibility of another surge in swine flu cases after schools reopen.
Meanwhile, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Wednesday that the state will hold a statewide Pandemic Influenza Summit in Frankfort next month to plan for any problems with the H1N1 swine flu virus when flu season begins this fall.
A potential vaccination campaign also will be discussed, the governor said. Representatives from business, public and private K-12 education, secondary education, law enforcement and health care will be invited to the session, planned for Sept. 3 at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Dr. William Hacker, Kentucky's public health commissioner, said the steps being planned reflect the seriousness with which officials are preparing for the 2009-10 flu season, when regular seasonal flu and swine flu could pose a double-barreled problem.
A pandemic is a disease epidemic spread over a wide area. Pandemics vary in severity. But pandemics like the 1918 flu outbreak can threaten millions.
The H1N1 flu strain, which surfaced in April, caused more than 300 deaths in the United States and made more than 100 people sick in Kentucky. The virus generally faded after warm weather arrived, but Hacker said H1N1 cases are still appearing in youth camps across the country this summer.
"Since we'll be starting school with H1N1 flu already percolating in the country, it's reasonable to assume that we'll see an earlier and more intense flu season than normal this fall," he said.
The H1N1strain is particularly worrisome because people have no immunity against it. And while the strain's severity now seems comparable to that of seasonal flu, health experts worry that H1N1 could mutate into a more dangerous form in the coming months. There's no sign of that happening yet.
"While we have no indication that the new H1N1 strain is causing more serious illness than we saw in the spring, we can expect to see more cases through the fall and winter," Hacker said in a statement. "It's vital that we focus on preparing now, before the new flu season begins."
Hacker noted that H1N1 tends to attack young people, with school-age children particularly susceptible.
In a letter mailed to Kentucky school superintendents earlier this week, Hacker and state Interim Education Commissioner Kevin Noland urged school officials to review existing plans and take steps such as making contacts with local health departments and homeland security coordinators.