By any name H1N1 flu will be a pest

Gwen Chamberlain
Marge Brinn

It’s here, it doesn’t care what we call it and it’s a survivor.

H1N1 flu, previously called swine flu and now in clinical circles referred to as 2009 H1N1 flu, is spreading throughout the region in a pandemic marked by daily changes in status.

For local public health officials, dealing with this virus means there’s no reason to put effort into testing people who show symptoms of the respiratory illness, but there are all kinds of reasons to educate the public on how to avoid it and how to treat it if they do get it.

Yates County Public Health Emergency Planner Marge Brinn says most people who do contract this H1N1 virus will not suffer serious symptoms. But others may and this virus has proven deadly to some otherwise healthy people.

People who have health care issues such as pregnancy, asthma, heart disease, diabetes and/or increased age should have a conversation with their doctor now. During that conversation, they should discuss treatment options if/when they get flu symptoms, including the use of antiviral medications.

“If you are a healthy person and you have symptoms of the flu, treat your symptoms at home unless your condition worsens,” advises Brinn. 

Most healthy persons can recover without direct medical attention and should not go to the Emergency Department or physicians’ offices.

While people over age 65 are usually the most severely ill during a typcial flu season, this H1N1 flu is striking more healthy young people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for children 5 to 17 and adults 18 to 49 years of age, hospitalization rates from April to September exceed average flu season rates (for October through April) and 60 pediatric deaths related to H1N1 flu have been reported to CDC since April 2009, including 11 deaths reported last week.

Brinn has been making presentations to school staff and community organizations around Yates County. She says the information and guidance on the pandemic, which was declared by the World Health Organization in June, is updated frequently, and sometimes daily, based on new scientific knowledge. 

Brinn stresses that the declaration of pandemic flu was made not on the severity of the illness, but on the rapid and widespread impact it is having

Now Brinn is advising the public to expect the unexpected. She says the spread of the virus will continue and it will co-circulate with the seasonal flu. The severity of the illness could stay the same, or it could increase or decrease. There is always a chance the virus’s make-up could change again, becoming more dangerous.

This H1N1 is a new influenza virus that is spreading from person to person around the world, mainly through the coughs and sneezes of the people who are sick. People often contract the virus simply by touching something with flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

The symptoms of H1N1 are similar to regular “seasonal” flu: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue. Some people have reported diarrhea and vomiting.

The incubation period is two days and most cases last from one to four days.

One of the reasons the virus is effectively spreading is because someone who is carrying the virus, but does not yet feel ill, can shed the virus up to a full day before noting the symptoms.

Those infected with the virus will continue shedding it for the first three days of the illness. Shedding subsides after five days for adults but can last for more than 10 days in children.

Because public health officials are instructing people to avoid others when they are ill, this fall and winter could be marked by disruptions to community, business and educational activities due to absenteeism.

Area school districts have been planning and preparing for the upcoming flu season, say Superintendents Ann Orman of Penn Yan and Nancy Zimar of Dundee.

Orman says the Penn Yan District will continue to stress education about good hygiene practices.

She sent a letter to all parents with guidelines based on state recommendations for deciding to keep children home from school.

In essence, children who have a fever over 100 degrees should be kept home from school and should not return until after the fever is under 100 degrees for 24 hours without fever-reducing medications.

School staff have been briefed on expectations about staying home if they are ill. Hand sanitizers have been installed in each of the schools and the custodial staff is taking extra precautions with cleaning as recommended by the state.

Zimar says Dundee teachers have a supply of disinfectant wipes to keep desks, door knobs, computer keyboards and other common areas as clean as possible. The district is also using new environmentally friendly cleaners that kill viruses in a short time and hand sanitizer dispensers have been installed at key locations.

She posts new information on the school’s web page as it becomes available.

Keuka College has an H1N1 campus-wide committee and a special section on the school’s Web site dedicated to the flu. One flu shot clinic has been held and another is being planned.

Brinn says public health officials have been meeting with public school administration and staff in addition to county government departments and community organizations.

However, Brinn was discouraged by the cancellation of an opportunity to meet with business people last week. A Yates Chamber of Commerce event was cancelled due to a low number of reservations.

Brinn says she’d be happy to make presentations at area businesses. Contact her at Yates County Public Health at 315-536-5160.

How to reduce the impact of the H1N1 flu

1. Vaccinate:

• Seasonal flu vaccines are available now at physicians offices and flu clinics. A vaccine for the H1N1 flu will be available soon.

• The priority groups to receive the H1N1 vaccine are pregnant women, health care workers and emergency service workers, people caring for infants under six months (infants that young cannot be vaccinated), children and young adults from six months to 24 years and people from ages 25 to 65 with underlying medical conditions.

2. Stop Germs:

• Use good respiratory hygiene. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and throw the used tissue in the trash.

• In the absence of a tissue, cover coughs and sneezes with the inside of your arm. Do not cough/sneeze into your hands.

• Wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently, but especially after coughing and sneezing. Use paper towels to dry hands and then turn the faucet off with the towel before throwing it in the trash.

• Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective (containing at least 60 percent alcohol) when soap and water is not available and your hands are not visibly dirty.

•Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

• If you are sick, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness.

• Clean and disinfect surfaces and items that are used by several people, especially those with symptoms. Read the instructions on disinfectants carefully. Many must be applied to surfaces and left for a few seconds up to several minutes in order to kill germs.

•  If you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible.

•  Follow public health advice about school closures, avoiding crowds and other measures to keep your distance from others.

3. Antiviral Drugs:

• Antiviral prescription drugs can treat both the seasonal and Novel H1N1 flu. They can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications. They work best if started within the first two days of symptoms.Discuss this with your doctor.

Seek urgent medical care if you have the flu and:

• Trouble breathing

• Pain or pressure in your chest or stomach

•  Bluish skin

•  Dizziness and/or confusion

•  Severe or persistent vomiting

•  Increased fever or coughing

•  Your flu-like symptoms improve but then return.

For more information: - General information on the flu - Information on local clinics and events - Centers for Disease Control - Resources for businesses and employers - Penn Yan Central School - Dundee Central School - Keuka College H1N1 information center