With more waves of flu expected, vaccine is valuable toolWith the number of new H1N1 flu cases declining, you may think we can all take a break from getting flu shots and other prevention strategies.
By: Dr. Timothy Burke, For the News Tribune
With the number of new H1N1 flu cases declining, you may think we can all take a break from getting flu shots and other prevention strategies.
I beg to differ, based on what I know about this pandemic flu and the fact that more people now qualify for its vaccine.
While the number of new cases may have peaked, we’re still above the level considered an epidemic, and history shows that pandemic influenzas like H1N1 usually have more than two waves.
That means it is vitally important to get the H1N1 vaccination when it becomes available to you. A simple shot or nasal spray vaccine can protect you from a new virus strain that’s making millions of people sick and, as reported this week, causing deaths in the Northland.
Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health expanded H1N1 priority groups to include anyone
6 months to 24 years old and people 25-64 with chronic health conditions. Wisconsin had done the same.
H1N1 is proving to be a true pandemic virus. Because it’s a new strain, more people are becoming ill because they have no natural immunity.
Most patients who have been hospitalized or died have had underlying medical conditions, such as asthma or diabetes, which make their bodies less able to fight the flu. Another factor that’s emerging is morbid obesity — more than 100 pounds over your ideal weight. H1N1 has also hit young children and pregnant women hard.
If you get flu-like symptoms, I recommend a prompt prescription of Tamiflu. This anti-viral drug is especially important for young children, pregnant women or anyone with a chronic medical condition.
Tamiflu doesn’t kill a virus, but stops it from spreading so your body can recover faster.
If you have flu-like symptoms, see your doctor promptly. You can also get a Tamiflu prescription by talking to a nurse at SMDC’s Nurse-On-Line at (218) 786-3110 or the Minnesota Department of Health’s FluLine at (866) 259-4655.
If you’ve been suffering with the flu, get better and then get worse again, seek prompt medical treatment. We’re finding bacterial infections, such as bacterial pneumonia, are occurring in people whose bodies are run down from the flu.
We’re all wondering what comes next with the H1N1 flu and the seasonal flu. Epidemiologists and public health officials are much better at monitoring the flu than predicting what it will do next. That’s because viruses can change, and when they do, the way they affect people can change, too.
We may see H1N1 flu cases rise again after Thanksgiving, when families have traveled and spent time together. We usually see an increase in seasonal flu cases after Christmas.
Minnesota State Epidemiologist Ruth Lynfield said while flu activity is declining in Minnesota, other states have seen it fall and bounce back. She expects this second wave of H1N1 infections to end in December, just when seasonal flu usually gears up. She expects a third wave of H1N1 to hit in January and February.
As I look ahead, I see an even greater need for seasonal flu and H1N1 flu vaccinations. More people vaccinated means fewer will get ill and spread their illness to others. Vaccinations are our best way to counter a pandemic.
This is my last weekly column on the epidemic. I hope you have found them informative.
Dr. Timothy Burke is the epidemiologist for SMDC Health System and an infectious disease specialist.