The H1N1 virus may infect up to half of the U.S. population this fall and winter and may lead to between 30,000 and 90,000 deaths, according to a recent report. By comparison, about 36,000 people die of seasonal flu each year.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that between April 15 and July 24 of this year, more than 43,000 people contracted the swine flu, and 302 died from it. During the Southern Hemisphere’s winter (June–August), nearly 1,500 people died from the swine flu.
It is important to keep in mind that the seasonal flu vaccine will not offer protection against H1N1. Children are in the high-risk group, and will need to receive both the seasonal flu vaccination and 2009 H1N1 vaccination.
Debra Lordan · Editor/General Manager
To that end, the Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH) is working closely with the Department of Education (DOE) on plans for free, voluntary statewide H1N1 vaccination clinics in schools in the winter that will follow the Stop Flu at School seasonal flu program in the fall.
DOH is working with physicians and community vaccinators statewide to make the vaccine available at convenient locations, so that when the vaccine arrives, it can be delivered efficiently. DOH is also working with State Civil Defense and public and private sector partners, and partnering with community agencies to protect vulnerable populations.
CDC has identified high-priority groups for vaccination based on last spring’s H1N1 statistics: pregnant women, caregivers of children younger than 6 months, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, children and young adults from 6 months through 24 years, and persons 25 through 64 who have medical conditions that place them at high risk for complications. One age group is missing from the list. Health officials believe that U.S. adults over 60 may have acquired partial immunity to the strain from exposure to previous H1N1 viruses that circulated in the first half of the 20th century.
The swine flu strain is passed on just like seasonal flu—mainly through coughing or sneezing by infected people. H1N1’s effects are largely similar to those of seasonal flu: fever, cough, stuffy nose, sore throat, chills, exhaustion and headache. Most people recover from these body blows without medical treatment.
DOH is urging everyone to practice good health and hygiene habits, get vaccinated and stay home when they are sick. If you get sick, experts urge you to stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Authorities also urge employers and administrators to develop flexible plans to respond to widespread absenteeism.
No one knows if the fast-spreading H1N1 will mutate into a more dangerous form. Scientists have seen no signs so far. But in the battle between seasonal vs. swine, if you contract either one, you could be down for the count.
Visit www.hawaii.gov/health or call 2-1-1.