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Bracing for an unpredictable threat - Flu could pose greater danger this fall

It's that time of year when the beaches are full, resorts are busy, parks are plentiful with picnickers and Douglas County Public Health is hoping everyone is thinking about getting their flu shots.

It's that time of year when the beaches are full, resorts are busy, parks are plentiful with picnickers and Douglas County Public Health is hoping everyone is thinking about getting their flu shots.

Although the upcoming flu season probably isn't at the forefront of people's minds, it should be. This year could be a doozy.

"We are anticipating an extremely busy fall," said Sandy Tubbs, director of Douglas County Public Health. "We are scrambling to get everything ready."

Tubbs said shipments of the seasonal flu vaccine - which is the one most people receive each year - are likely to arrive earlier this year; possibly in September.

And although at the current time, there is not a vaccine for the potentially dangerous H1N1 virus, Tubbs indicated that it's in the process of being formulated and that she anticipates a shipment maybe in October.

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The H1N1 virus is what health officials are more worried about this year, noted Tubbs, adding that Douglas County Public Health has been working with local clinics, hospitals, schools and other health care facilities in preparation for this fall.

Local health officials are thinking about where and when a flu center in the community could be set up if needed. Tubbs said she fears there could be a surge with the flu this year that would overwhelm local clinics. And although the clinics have a plan in place for a surge, public health is planning for the "flu center" concept just to be on the safe side.

"We are working with them [health care officials] to figure out where would it go, what would we do, how would we staff it and how would we communicate to the public that the center is open," said Tubbs.

Tubbs said her office has been working with local schools also to figure out what would happen with vaccinations.

With the information that she has received thus far, Tubbs said the H1N1 vaccine could be a two-dose for adults and potentially a four-dose series for children younger than the age of 9, which is why there is a need to work with the school districts.

The priority list for the H1N1 flu vaccine is different than that of the regular seasonal flu vaccine. "There are high priority groups that would get the vaccine first, such as health care workers and then children," she said.

However, she added that while the priority groups for the H1N1 vaccine have not yet been determined, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will provide guidance to state and local health departments when the time comes to distribute the vaccine.

Tubbs noted that Douglas County Public Health is fortunate to have cooperative local health care facilities to work with and plan with in case of a flu outbreak. She said there are some communities that struggle with this and that members of the Douglas County community should be happy that all entities - clinics, the hospital, nursing homes, schools - can all work together for the greater good of the people.

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She said families should start preparing as well. One way is to put together a family preparedness plan, which includes what to do for childcare, etc. if a family member becomes ill. In addition, businesses should be prepared because, "How do you run a business if 30 to 40 percent of your workforce is out sick?" she asked.

If the virus strikes as hard as health officials fear, Tubbs said people need to be prepared.

"It's time to shake the dust off your plans," said Tubbs. "This disease [H1N1 virus] has figured out a way to transfer easily from person to person. The best thing we can do is keep it from happening. We need to be vigilant. If you are sick, stay home. Cough into your elbow and as always, I can't stress enough about washing your hands."

Local diagnosis

According to Pope County health officials, an infant living in Pope County is the first to be diagnosed in that area.

On Monday, July 13, Pope County Public Health received notice from the Minnesota Department of Health indicating that an infant in Pope County had tested positive for H1N1. The infant was not hospitalized.

Although it was the first case officially diagnosed, the infant was likely not the first person to have the H1N1 virus. Tubbs noted that testing for the H1N1 virus is done sporadically.

LEARN ABOUT H1N1

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What is H1N1? Novel H1N1 (referred to as "swine flu" early on) is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. This virus is spreading from person-to-person, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread.

Why is the H1N1 virus sometimes called "swine flu?" This virus was originally referred to as "swine flu" because laboratory testing showed that many of the genes in this new virus were very similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. But further study has shown that this new virus is very different from what normally circulates in North American pigs. It has two genes from flu viruses that normally circulate in pigs in Europe and Asia and avian genes and human genes. Scientists call this a "quadruple reassorted" virus.

What are the signs and symptoms of this virus in people? The symptoms of H1N1 flu virus in people are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Also, like seasonal flu, severe illnesses and death has occurred as a result of illness associated with this virus.

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick? There is no vaccine available right now to protect against the H1N1 virus. There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza, including:

  • 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, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home if you are sick for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.

What should I do if I get sick? You should stay home and avoid contact with other people. Staying at home means that you should not leave your home except to seek medical care. This means avoiding normal activities, including work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings. If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed.
What are the warning signs? In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing.
  • Bluish or gray skin color.
  • Not drinking enough fluids.
  • Severe or persistent vomiting.
  • 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.

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen.
  • Sudden dizziness.
  • Confusion.
  • Severe or persistent vomiting.
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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