We are finally beginning to see a few cases of the 2009 novel H1N1 influenza (“swine flu”) in San Saba County. This is not surprising as this type of influenza is widespread. The H1N1 influenza is the same type of infection as our usual, seasonal influenza that comes through our part of the world every winter – and carries the same risk of complications as seasonal influenza. The reason that there is concern for this virus is that it is more contagious than our usual influenza because it’s new and very few of us have any immunity for the virus.
We should remember that all cases of influenza can be serious, and there are thousands of people who develop complications and even die as a result of the usual, seasonal influenza that we see every winter. The complication rate for H1N1 influenza is not higher than it is for seasonal influenza. Nonetheless, we may see many more cases of H1N1 influenza than seasonal influenza because of the decreased immunity to H1N1 that I mentioned above.
Experts do not recommend the anti-viral medications to treat H1N1 or seasonal influenza except for those who are most at risk of the complications such as pregnant women, people with underlying heart or lung disease or who have an increased risk due to other disorders.
The usual symptoms of influenza are fever, body aches, cough and sore throat that are of a rapid onset. If you or your child develops such symptoms, please stay at home! This is the best way to prevent spreading the virus once you’re sick. It is recommended that you stay at home, or keep your child at home, until you’ve been free of fever for at least 24-hours without taking any medication (i.e. fever is gone without taking Tylenol or Motrin, etc.). After that it is safe to return to work or school. At home with a sick person you should wash hands frequently, clean the things that everyone touches like door knobs, countertops, telephones, TV remote controls, etc. with an antiseptic cleaner (weak bleach solution, Lysol wipes, etc.) a few times a day.
If you are not sick, then take reasonable precautions to avoid infection. Stay away from crowds as much as you can, wash your hands often, sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hand, avoid people who are coughing.
The vaccine for seasonal influenza is available right now for adults and children. If you have heart or lung disease, asthma, diabetes, or other conditions that can affect your immune system, then it’s important to arrange to get this vaccine as well as the pneumonia vaccine, which is also available right now. The H1N1 vaccine should be available in October – you will see announcements in this paper and on the radio when the vaccine is available and how you can get it.
You can get more information about influenza at the Texas Department of Health website set up for influenza information, www.TexasFlu.com. You can also reach the health department for information about influenza at 254-778-6744. The Centers for Disease Control also has a help line that is toll-free, it is 1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).