Officials stress prevention, hygiene during flu season

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Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding all social contact for seven days after flu symptoms commence

By Angela Rutledge

On June 11, the World Health Organization announced the first pandemic in 41 years. The causative agent? The Novel A H1N1 Influenza virus, also known as the swine flu. This virus has quickly spread worldwide as countries from across the globe are preparing to protect their population from a potential devastating illness. Since the media has stated that the H1N1 Influenza is predicted to cause more than normal flu-related deaths, the cause for pandemic concern is legitimate.

In a time when people are prone to panic, knowledge is power and the more we learn about our enemy, the better prepared we can be. The Centers for Disease Control is continually researching the H1N1 virus and provides updates on the Web site as new information is found.

What is it?

H1N1 is not the same as the typical seasonal flu strain. It is a new and different virus that may cause more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths than regular flu. However, the symptoms are similar and the only way to differentiate between the two is by a diagnostic lab test. This test usually entails a nasal swab that can be completed at your local physician’s office and results may be available within hours.

What causes it?

People may contract H1N1 by being exposed to the virus from other humans through coughing and sneezing. Additionally, the flu virus can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching eyes, nose or mouth without first washing hands. The CDC estimates that the virus can survive on surfaces for up to eight hours.

H1N1 is not spread by eating pork or pork products and there have been no confirmed cases that resulted from drinking properly treated water from public water sources.

There have been about 164 confirmed human cases of H1N1 flu in Kentucky as of Aug. 7. The CDC is no longer monitoring individual cases and a more recent number is not available.

However, Gwenda Bond, the Assistant Communication Director with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services stated that there have been no reports of H1N1 related deaths in the state as of Aug. 31.

The CDC estimates that 36,000 people in the United States die each year from the seasonal flu. To put that in perspective, there are almost 340,000 more people who die each year due to complications of tobacco use. According to statistics, you are more likely to die of heart disease, cancer or stroke before the seasonal flu.

Many H1N1 cases have not warranted medical treatment.

These risk groups are recommended to get the H1N1 flu vaccine as it becomes available: pregnant women; all people 6 months-24 years old; caregivers and household contacts for children younger than 6 months; and healthcare workers

Novel A H1N1 vaccine is being prepared for release this fall. Since this vaccine will not replace the seasonal flu shot, they should be given concurrently. The CDC does not expect that there will be a shortage of the H1N1 vaccine; however, they do state that it may be scarce as it first becomes available.

People who received a swine flu vaccine in 1976 should get a new vaccination for the current strain of H1N1.

Until the vaccine is released to the public, using good hand hygiene is a strong preventative tool against this virus.

H1N1 symptoms include fever, cough, body aches, chills, sore throat, runny nose, headache, fatigue and possibly stomach upset.

What if I get sick?

•Seek medical advice if H1N1 is suspected.

•Practice good hygiene and hand washing

•Stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone without use of medication

•Some antiviral medications can help people get better sooner

•A person is generally contagious from one day before symptoms to a week after symptoms, so the CDC recommends avoiding all social contact for seven days after symptoms are present.

•If the symptoms worsen greatly causing difficulty in breathing or a major change in character, this could indicate that the situation is severe and emergency assistance is absolutely necessary.

For more information, see http://healthalerts.ky.gov/swineflu/; http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu; or http://www.who.int/csr/disease/swineflu/en/.