With Schools to Prevent Swine Flu
By Dr. Steven Feder
Since Maine's first case of H1N1 (swine) influenza was confirmed in April, there have been about 400 cases documented in the state and as the flu season approaches that number is expected to grow.
Symptoms of H1N1 (fever, sore throat, congestion, cough and fatigue) are similar to the seasonal flu but there are important differences that have changed the way federal, state and local agencies are approaching the problem. Unlike the seasonal flu, which disproportionately affects the elderly, H1N1 has a much more significant effect on the younger population.
The median age of those with laboratory-confirmed infections in the United States was 12 this summer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
LincolnHealth will be working closely with school administrators and nurses, storing vaccine, and supporting vaccine clinics at individual schools and through school-based health centers at Lincoln Academy and Boothbay Region High School.
As with the seasonal flu, prevention will be the key to limiting the spread of this new virus. Good personal hygiene and being vaccinated are two important ways people can protect themselves and their loved ones.
A vaccine for swine flu is not expected to be available until October. When the vaccine is available, many local schools will conduct vaccine clinics during school hours.
Physician offices are also expected to begin receiving the vaccine in October. Those who are most at risk will be given first priority for the swine flu vaccine. There are no plans to make the vaccine mandatory.
Seasonal flu shots will not provide protection for H1N1, nor will the H1N1 vaccinations provide protection for the seasonal flu. Protection against both the seasonal and swine flu will require a shot for the seasonal flu and a shot for swine flu.
Groups most at risk include: pregnant women; household members and caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age; health care and emergency medical services personnel; all people from 6 months through 24 years of age and people with chronic health conditions that put them at risk of medical complications.
Here are some important things to understand about preventing infection from the H1N1 flu:
- Use appropriate hygiene. Carry a handkerchief and use it to cover your nose if you cough or sneeze. If you do not have a handkerchief, cough or sneeze into your sleeve on your upper arm, not your hands.
- Keep your hands clean. Wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and/or use an alcohol-based rub as directed. Be sure that your health care provider does this as well. If you or your child have flu-like symptoms (especially fever, sore throat and cough), your health care provider may initiate testing or treatment if they deem it necessary.
- Remember that the virus can live from 2-8 hours on surfaces. Be careful about desks, shopping cart handles and dishes.
- There are several things that kill the virus. These include heat (75-100 degrees Celsius or 167-212 degrees Fahrenheit), chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, many forms of soap, iodine-based antiseptics and alcohol-based rubs.
- Stay home! In most settings, those with flu-like symptoms should stay home at least 24 hours after the fever resolves. This often means an absence of 3-5 days from school or work. Those in health care settings and child care settings for the very young, exclusion should be for 7 days after the onset of symptoms or 24 hours of being fever free, whichever is longer.
- As with prevention of most disease, eat healthfully, exercise and avoid stress to the extent that it is possible.
Some emergency signs to watch for in children include: fast or labored breathing, bluish/gray skin color, poor appetite, persistent vomiting, not waking up or interacting as they typically would, severe irritability, cold symptoms which initially improve and then suddenly worsen with high fever. In adults, the most common symptoms include fever, cough and sore throat.
There are treatments (the anti-viral medicines Tamiflu and Relenza), which may be prescribed in some instances. For questions about these treatment options, you should speak to your health care provider.
There is a wealth of information available, including on the weekly updated website www.maineflu.gov, which will provide accurate up-to-date information and help to dispel myth, rumor and hype.