Flu questions answered
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Saturday, October 17, 2009
10/17/09 at 3:35 AM
More on swine flu.
Right now, the state's limited amount of swine flu vaccine is being given to pregnant women and children ages 5 to 18 with chronic medical conditions.
But 65,900 vaccine doses are expected next week, opening the door to more people who want to be immunized against the novel H1N1 influenza virus, state health officials said.
This new strain of flu emerged in Mexico earlier this year and was discovered in the U.S. in April. Since then, the World Health Organization has declared a global pandemic, which means only that it has spread worldwide.
Recent polls have shown just fewer than half of all Americans say they will be vaccinated against this virus. The federal government is urging people to be vaccinated to protect themselves and particularly others who have compromised immune systems.
Meanwhile, the Tulsa Health Department announced it has run out of seasonal flu vaccine. More shipments of that vaccine are expected in mid-November.
The Tulsa World put some questions to local infectious disease specialists and state and county health officials for answers about the H1N1 virus, or swine flu:
Is the new flu more dangerous than seasonal flu?
"No, it's not more dangerous. It is affecting a slightly different group," said Dr. Mark Rowland, St. Francis Hospital infectious disease specialist. The mortality rate for the H1N1 flu has turned out to be no greater, if not slightly lower, than what we see for seasonal flu, he says.
The concern is children are more susceptible to this flu. A third of people born before 1950 are immune to this virus because they were exposed to a similar one, Rowland said. Only 4 percent of people born after 1980 are immune to this new strain, he said.
Did the fall break in area schools help slow the spread of the flu?
It appears so, says Kelly VanBuskirk, emergency preparedness planner for the Tulsa Health Department. The county health department monitors the number of people who go to Tulsa County hospital emergency rooms for a number of complaints, including fever and influenza-like illness.
"It gives us an idea of what's going on in the community," she said.
Both surveillance charts show either a dip or a flatline in the number of ER visits for fever and influenza-like illness during the fall break.
"It will be curious to see what happens after kids go back to school," VanBuskirk said.
To view those charts, go to tulsaworld.com/tulsabiowatch.
How many doses of the vaccine do people need?
Adults only need one dose of the H1N1 vaccine to develop immunity. Children younger than 10 years of age need two doses 28 days apart, said Tulsa Health Department spokeswoman Melanie Christian. That is the same for seasonal flu vaccine if it is the first time a child gets the vaccine, she said.
Is the vaccine really safe?
The vaccine is made in exactly the same way the seasonal flu vaccine is made each year, Rowland said. Although several companies are manufacturing the vaccine, the largest supplier is Sanofi Pasteur, a French company, he said. Others include AstraZeneca of London, Novartis of Switzerland and CSL of Australia. The U.S. government has ordered 250 million doses and is paying for the vaccine with your tax dollars. Initial shipments have begun to all states.
"This is just another flu vaccine," Rowland said. "If we would have had the benefit of knowing the H1N1 virus was going to be a predominant flu this year early enough, it would have been included in our seasonal flu vaccine."
Will the H1N1 vaccine protect you from seasonal flu, too?
No. You need to get both vaccines to build immunity to both types of flu.
Will wearing a mask protect you from getting the new flu?
Yes, but it may be easier to stay six feet away from people who are coughing or sneezing, Rowland said. "Influenza is a respiratory disease spread by droplets that are coughed or sneezed out," he said. "They almost never go beyond six feet. The best thing to do is avoid sick people."
The flu can also be spread by hand-to-hand contact. "That's why we're saying wash your hands a lot. Now's probably not a good time to be shaking hands."
How effective are hand sanitizers?
The best solution is to wash your hands with soap and warm water. However, alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be used in the absence of soap and water. Alcohol has been shown to be effective against the influenza virus. For clothes and surfaces, chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, detergents and iodine-based antiseptics also work to eliminate influenza viruses, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What should you do if you have flu symptoms?
If you or your child has typical flu symptoms such as fever, coughing, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, stay home. "For goodness sake, if you're sick, don't take it to your co-workers or your school," Rowland said.
But if you have trouble breathing, become confused or seem to recover but the fever returns, you could be experiencing flu complications, Rowland said. That is when you should seek medical attention, he said.
"Typically, when you have the flu, you don't get sick again. It's gone and you go on your way. If it starts to come back, that could mean you have a secondary infection," he said.
Isn't this whole swine flu business overblown?
No. One reason the government and doctors are urging people to get vaccinated is to protect society and keep businesses working. The other reason is to protect those people who are most vulnerable to complications or death from the virus. Those include people ages 6 months to 24 years, people with chronic conditions such as diabetes or muscular dystrophy, and pregnant women. Health care workers and caregivers to children younger than 6 months of age are also targeted for the vaccine to protect immune-compromised people in their care.
Eight Oklahomans have died from the swine flu. Three were children.
"For most people, the flu is just the flu," Rowland said. "But in some people, flu is a really big deal. When you think about that child who dies from the flu, you don't want to be the one that gave it to them."
Kim Archer 581-8315
Leticia Calderon holds her 2-year-old son, Oswaldo Pastor, as he gets a bandage from LPN Melissa Henson after receiving a vaccination Friday. In the background, Oswaldo's 7-year-old sister, Jessica Pastor, waits for her turn. STEPHEN HOLMAN/Tulsa World
Tulsa Health Department employee Sonia Lerma gets paperwork in order as she directs people toward nurses stations to receive their H1N1 vaccine at the Tulsa Health Department on Friday. STEPHEN HOLMAN/Tulsa World