Editorial: Take H1N1 seriously, but do not panic

By on October 29, 2009

The H1N1 virus is here, but unfortunately for many residents, the vaccine is not.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as of this past week, both the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu is widespread in 46 states, including Illinois.

However, while the virus is spreading, the vaccine to prevent contracting it is not keeping pace.

See the announcement from the Kane County Health Department on page 1A, and the problem becomes clear. The department stated that it had ordered 64,000 doses of the vaccine in September, yet only 17,500 were delivered in October. It is a certainty that all departments and medical facilities that ordered the vaccine experienced similar shortages, given that the delivery to the Kane County Health Department “represented one of the largest supplies for any agency in Illinois,” the department announcement read. In fact, the department said that nearly 200 private medical providers also ordered the vaccine, and received few, if any, doses. In addition, other county health departments have received no, or very limited, supplies.

To widely distribute the H1N1 vaccine to those considered at highest risk of complications, the Kane County Health Department had scheduled multiple vaccine clinics, one of which was held Oct. 26. Due to the demand at the Oct. 26 clinic, the department has had to cancel the remaining clinics and will now only offer vaccines by appointment, and based on available supply.

The vaccine will only be provided to those considered part of a “priority group,” that being:
• pregnant women
• people who live with or provide care for infants aged less than 6 months
• health-care and emergency medical services personnel
• people aged 6 months to 24 years
• persons aged 25 to 64 years who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related complications.

This flu season is one to take seriously, although the reality is that every flu season should be taken seriously. In “normal” years, an average of 36,000 Americans die annually from the seasonal flu. Add H1N1 to the mix, and this year will not be a good one.

For those who are in a priority group and are unable to find the vaccine, contact the county Health Department and set up an appointment. If the supply is unavailable, staff may be able to help steer you to a facility that has it.

For those not in a priority group, plan on not receiving the vaccine prior to being exposed to the virus. This does not mean you should panic, but rather, this means you should take steps now to both try to prevent, and plan for, the illness.

The preventative measures cited by the CDC are generally common knowledge, but they should still be repeated.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• If you are sick with a flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. The fever should be gone when not using a fever-reducing medicine.
• While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
• Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other measures to keep distance from each other to lessen the spread of flu.

Should you contract H1N1, there is still no need to panic. Treat it like the seasonal flu, but also be aware of the following emergency warning signs that should signal someone to urgently seek medical care:

In children:
• Fast breathing or trouble breathing
• Bluish skin color
• Not drinking enough fluids
• Not waking up or not interacting
• Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
• Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
• Fever with a rash

In adults:
• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
• Sudden dizziness
• Confusion
• Severe or persistent vomiting

This flu season will be worse than any in recent memory, so it is vital that you remain informed and prepared; but most important of all, do not panic.