Seasonal flu causes an estimated 36,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. As of Sept. 3, there have been 593 deaths this year – 20 of them in Arizona – from the H1N1, or what all my patients call swine flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
You might wonder, then, why there is such concern.
Unlike seasonal flu, where many individuals have some immunity due to past exposure to similar strains, the swine flu virus is a new virus. It appears that those individuals born before 1957 have some immunity due to exposure to viruses with some similarity to the swine flu virus. As far as we know, most people outside of this group have little or no immunity. Therefore, there is the potential for swine flu to affect many more people than seasonal flu.
How would you know if you have the Swine Flu?
If you get sick with flu-like symptoms, (sore throat, fever, muscle aches, etc.) chances are you won’t know whether you have seasonal flu or the swine flu, unless there are documented cases of swine flu in your area. Swine flu and seasonal flu illness cause very similar symptoms, although swine flu may cause more gastrointestinal symptoms, possibly through the forms vomiting or diarrhea.
Whether you are infected with the swine flu virus or the seasonal flu virus, the majority of healthy individuals recover without any complications. They don’t require anti-viral medications or hospitalization. Most people recover with rest, some ibuprofen or Tylenol and by staying hydrated.
What you can do to protect yourself and others
If you fall into one of the recommended groups, you should get vaccinated against seasonal flu and against swine flu when it becomes available. Even though the seasonal flu vaccine doesn’t protect you from the swine flu, you can get sick with both the swine flu and seasonal flu. In other words, if you get sick with seasonal flu you are not protected from the swine flu.
If you are sick make sure you cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. The Environmental Protection Agency also has a list of disinfectant products, like Lysol for door knobs or table tops, that are registered for use against Influenza A.
Lastly, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school if your symptoms are manageable and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them. When will the Swine Flu vaccine become available and who should receive it?
The Health and Human Services department expects to have 45 million doses of the vaccine available by Oct. 15th, with an estimated 20 million more shipped each week. The initial vaccine will be available in limited quantities. High-risk groups should receive the vaccine before others because they are often more susceptible to infection, and are more likely to suffer complications.
The CDC recommends the following groups receive the vaccine first: people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, children 6 months of age to 4 years, children 5 through 18 years of age who have chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact.
Dr. Mark Tosca is a family practice physician at Kachina Family Practice (www. Kachinafamilypractice.com) and will be writing about the flu monthly. For more information on the Swine Flu go to www.cdc.gov, or contact Tosca at firstname.lastname@example.org.