Flu season in the Northland: Novel H1N1
By: Ken Ripp, M.D.
Novel H1N1 (often referred to as the swine flu) is in the news and on our minds. The disease was first detected in people in the United States in April of this year. By June 11, the World Health Organization declared that a pandemic was underway. A pandemic is an outbreak of illness that expands to different parts of the world.
The 2009 H1N1 influenza poses a potentially serious health situation for the U.S. The U.S. government has declared the swine flu to be a public health emergency. The Centers For Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration are working to closely monitor the disease, develop and administer a vaccine against it and provide a national action plan to protect U.S. citizens.
Symptoms of the H1N1 virus are similar to that of regular human flu. They include: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhea. People with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes may see symptoms of those conditions worsen with the virus.
The swine flu can cause severe illness and even death. Certain symptoms indicate the need for immediate medical attention. Seek the care of a health care professional if a person with novel H1N1 experiences persistent vomiting, difficulty breathing, bluish or gray skin color or flu-like symptoms that seem to improve but then return with fever and worsening cough. In children with H1N1, an inability to waken or interact and extreme irritability can indicate the need for emergency medical care. In adults, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness and confusion are symptoms that warrant a call to your doctor.
Flu is spread from person to person through respiratory secretions – coughing and sneezing. Secretions can be inhaled, if they are airborne. They can also land on surfaces, such as doorknobs or faucet handles and then enter your body when you touch the surface and later rub your eyes, nose or mouth. The disease can be spread through shared drinking glasses or eating utensils or through direct contact such as holding hands or kissing. A person is contagious beginning one day before any symptoms develop until seven or more days after becoming sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu season officially begins October 4, 2009. It is hoped that shortly after that – sometime in November – there will be a vaccine available for novel H1N1. The best way to prevent the H1N1 virus is through vaccination.
The seasonal flu vaccine will not protect you from the H1N1 flu. Likewise, the H1N1 vaccine does not prevent from the seasonal flu. To be protected against both, you will have to receive two flu shots this year – one for the seasonal flu, and another for H1N1.
Possible side effects for the H1N1 vaccine are similar to that of the seasonal flu shot and include soreness, redness, tenderness and swelling at the injection site. The CDC and Food and Drug Administration will closely monitor for any signs that the vaccine is causing unexpected adverse effects. Both the CDC and FDA report that they believe the benefits of vaccination with the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine will far outweigh the risks.
The H1N1 vaccine prevents the flu, but there are other medications used to treat it. The CDC recommends that only certain high-risk groups receive these medications, which are Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir). These are prescription antiviral medications that keep the flu virus from reproducing in your body. If you do get the flu, these medications can make your illness milder and help you feel better faster. They work best if started within 48 hours of first experiencing flu symptoms.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent the spread of the flu – both seasonal influenza and novel H1N1. Wash your hands often, especially after you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. They are common routes that germs use to enter your body. When you cough or sneeze, do so into the crook of your arm. If you cough or sneeze into a tissue, throw it away. If you are sick, stay home. Remain there until you are symptom-free for at least 24 hours. Get plenty of sleep. Maintain a regular exercise plan. Eat healthy meals and stay hydrated; drinking water is the best.
The CDC is working continuously to provide the public with current information regarding novel H1N1 influenza. For more information, go to the CDC website at: www.cdc.gov. And, for one-stop access to U.S. government influenza information, go to www.flu.gov.
|Dr. Ripp is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic.|