Ann Busche: Take action now for a healthy, H1N1-free autumnDo you know what you will do if someone in your family gets the flu?
By: Ann Busche, Budgeteer News
Children have been back to school for almost two weeks; they are full of excitement to see their friends, get to know their new teachers and use all their new school supplies.
Parents need to be aware that there may be one more thing coming home from school with their child, and that may be the virus that causes the flu. Do you know what you will do if someone in your family gets the flu?
This fall — as with every fall — Public Health and Human Services not only has to plan for a new version of seasonal influenza, but, in addition, another potentially serious strain: the 2009 novel H1N1 virus.
We first saw the new H1N1 virus in the United States last April, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to report higher-than-normal levels of flu-like illness and actual H1N1 outbreaks in some parts of the country.
That’s very unusual at this time of year.
The CDC estimates that we’ve had more than 1 million cases of H1N1 in the United States so far. Similar to seasonal flu, with H1N1 you’ll get a fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, achiness, headache, chills and fatigue. Sometimes H1N1 causes diarrhea and vomiting. Just like seasonal flu, it can be severe and potentially deadly.
H1N1 can be dangerous for a person with an underlying medical condition — such as asthma or diabetes — or if you’re pregnant. So far, it’s been most contagious among children and young adults ages 6 months to 24 years. Health care workers, emergency responders and people caring for infants should be on guard.
Some of the precautions are simple and personal:
• Make it a routine to wash your hands often with soap and water.
• Cough into your elbow or into a tissue, not in your hands.
• Stay home if you’re sick, and start planning now in the event that one of your kids gets the flu. And ask yourself these questions: If you work, have you made arrangements for child care? Have you talked with your employer about what to do in case you need to be out?
Some preparation is community-wide:
• If you’re an employer, now is the time to plan to meet your objectives with a reduced staff. You do not want an employee who is ill to spread flu in the workplace.
At the national level, scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are working with vaccine manufacturers to make sure that an H1N1 vaccine is not only safe but that the virus is not changing in ways that would reduce a vaccine’s impact. It should be ready this fall.
For more information, visit Flu.gov. The site provides guidance to prepare for, prevent and respond to an outbreak. It includes checklists and fact sheets that will help families and others make sure they are prepared.
To wrap up: A reminder: Wash your hands, cough in your sleeve and stay home when you’re sick. Get the vaccine when it’s available. No one knows what the impact of the fall flu season will be until we’re in the middle of it.
But how severe the flu becomes this fall will depend on how seriously each of us takes action to reduce the risk now.
Information for this article was provided by the Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Ann Busche is the director of the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services department. Contact her at 726-2096 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Flu activity classified as ‘widespread’
Officials at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) are tracking what appears to be a significant increase in influenza-like illness across the state.
Based on reports of increased influenza-like illness in schools and at sentinel reporting sites, flu activity in Minnesota is now classified as “widespread,” based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criteria.
“Widespread” means that cases of influenza have been reported in at least half of the state’s regions.
“Novel H1N1 has continued to cause illness in Minnesota all through the summer, and we have been anticipating a possible second wave of this illness. We strongly suspect that may be starting to happen now,” said Dr. Sanne Magnan, Minnesota’s commissioner of health.
Magnan stressed the importance of simple, “low-tech” prevention measures in protecting yourself against the flu.
“The first shipments of novel H1N1 vaccine won’t arrive for a number of weeks,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, a Minnesota state epidemiologist. “Right now, our first line of defense is the basic personal-protection measures we have been emphasizing since last spring.”
MDH has also issued updated recommendations for handling influenza-like illness in child care settings that serve children younger than the age of 5. MDH is recommending that parents keep those children at home until seven days after the symptoms first appeared or 24 hours after a child’s symptoms go away — whichever is longer.
The recommendations call for keeping young children out of child care longer than school-age children. If they feel well enough, school-age children may return to school 24 hours after their fever has resolved without the use of fever-reducing medicines.
Young children are at a higher risk of severe illness from the H1N1 virus. In Minnesota, children younger than 5 have been hospitalized with novel H1N1 at twice the rate of children aged 5 to 12.
“Observing precautions for preventing the spread of influenza is often not very feasible for young children,” said Lynfield. “For a young child, it can be difficult to control a runny nose and to cover their nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. In addition, young children tend to put shared toys and other items in their mouths. Frequent handwashing is also a challenge. For these reasons, influenza and other infectious diseases are easier to spread among young children.”
~ Press release