Health experts from around the state met in Des Moines today to discuss preparations for a possible outbreak of the H-1-N-1 flu virus this fall. Iowa Department of Public Health Director Tom Newton says the disease was not as devastating as initially feared last spring, but states need to be ready if the virus turns more deadly over the coming months.

"We feel very confident at this point that we’re as prepared as we can be, recognizing there are a lot of unknowns as we move into the fall," Newton said at the conclusion of the meeting. The University of Iowa is one of eight sites in the country conducting federally financed research on the vaccine to protect against H-1-N-1 flu.

Newton says the first doses of the vaccine probably won’t be made available to the public until October and Iowa’s share will come in relatively small batches. "I think they said we might get an initial amount of 200,000 (doses)," Newton said. "So, it’s going to be in small increments and it will continue on throughout the fall."

Governor Chet Culver attended today’s meeting and said the general public can help mitigate the severity of any H-1-N-1 outbreak. "They can practice healthy habits, they can wash their hands, they can carry a handkerchief in their back pocket like this," Culver said as he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket. "This could make all the difference, but that requires – in some cases – changing behaviors. That’s why we’re here."

Culver says state officials must walk a fine line between preparing the public for H-1-N-1, while avoiding undue alarm. Newton says health professionals should "prepare for the worst, but hope for the best."