Flu season is upon us. We are already seeing cases of H1N1 influenza, which is also known as the Swine flu. H1N1 is a novel, new influenza virus and will overlap the usual seasonal influenza.  Influenza is a respiratory virus that can infect up to 20% of the population in a normal influenza season, which is usually the winter months. This year, we are already experiencing the H1N1 virus, so the “flu season” is already upon us. In a normal year, upwards of 36,000 people may die from influenza related causes. The elderly, the very young and people with underlying medical problems have a greater risk for complications and are more likely to get hospitalized.

The best way to avoid getting influenza is to be vaccinated. The H1N1 vaccine is starting to ship now. The seasonal vaccine has been available since early September. The H1N1 vaccine is designated for specific at risk populations as designated by the CDC. Our practice is slated to receive 500 doses of the injectable H1N1 vaccine. The risks associated with the H1N1 vaccine are the same as with seasonal influenza vaccine. The H1N1 vaccine is not an experimental vaccine.

Symptoms of influenza include:

  • high fever (102.5F or higher)
  • severe and profound body aches
  • sore throat
  • dry, non-productive cough
  • runny nose
  • stomach symptoms are more common in children (vomiting and diarrhea)

People with the flu report that their symptoms develop suddenly. Our clinical experience is that adult patients look ill in addition to feeling ill.

While there are anti-viral medications for the treatment of influenza, these medications must be initiated in the first 36 hours of the onset of symptoms. Our policy is to not treat by phone. Collecting nasal swabs allows us to provide additional data that can be vital in the monitoring of the current influenza epidemic.

People who should get a seasonal flu vaccination each year include:

  1. Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday
  2. Pregnant women
  3. People 50 years of age and older
  4. People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  5. People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  6. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
    1. Health care workers
    2. Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
    3. household contacts and caregivers of children <5 years of age with particular emphasis on vaccinating contacts of children <6 months of age (these children are at higher risk of flu-related complications)

The H1N1 guidelines are very similar except the health care workers and those at greatest risk for exposure and therefore transmission should be vaccinated early. People over the age of 65 may be at a lower risk for H1N1 than the rest of the population.

This to this morning’s NPR story about influenza.

November 2009