It is very unusual for this time of year to still be seeing influenza-like-illness (ILI) continue throughout the summer months. The Rockford and Winnebago County area has been no exception, although activity has been low. Over the course of the summer all locally confirmed cases of influenza have been from the novel H1N1 influenza virus.
Mike Bacon, Winnebago County Health Department’s public health administrator states, “We will see more illness from the H1N1 flu this fall than what occurred this past spring and summer.”
Given that flu is typically transmitted more easily in fall and winter and the uncertain impact of H1N1 co-circulating with season flu strains, Mr. Bacon states, “We must be prepared for perhaps an early and prolonged influenza season.”
2009 Influenza Facts:
• This novel flu strain has affected people in more than 170 countries across the globe including the United States.
• Winnebago County has reported 60 cases in the last 4 months.
• This virus is spread from person-to-person.
• So far, the largest number of cases has occurred in people under the age of 25 years
• Symptoms include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, persons may also experience vomiting and diarrhea.
• Persons with H1N1 need to stay home for at least 24 hours after resolution of their fever.
• Novel H1N1 vaccinations are expected to begin in late October. (Community and School Clinics)
• Vaccination priority groups include: pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, healthcare and emergency services personnel with direct patient contact, children 6 months through 4 years of age and children 5 through 18 years of age who have chronic medical conditions.
While novel H1N1 influenza has been the focus of attention since this past spring, it is important that we do not forget the risks posed by seasoned influenza. Some people such as the elderly, young children and people with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious complications from seasonal influenza.
• Every year, seasonal flu on average causes more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 people die from seasonal flu complications.
• Last year Winnebago Country tracked seasonal flu activity which peaked in early March 2009.
• Symptoms include: fever, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, sometimes diarrhea.
• This virus is spread from person-to-person.
• CDC recommends getting a flu shot earlier this year (September, October), but it’s never too late.
• Seasonal vaccination priority groups include: children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday, pregnant women, people 50 years of age and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, people who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities, people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including: health care workers, household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu and household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age.
Now more than ever, as we approach flu season, our community needs to take preventative steps to stay healthy and limit the spread of these viruses. The Winnebago Country Health Departments recommends:
1. Get vaccinated: Mr. Bacon would like to see, “People, especially those at high risk for serious complications, and their close contacts, start to go out and get vaccinated. September is not too early.” The protection you get from the vaccine will not wear off before the flu season is over.
Two separate shots will be available this year. It is important to understand that the H1N1 vaccine is not intended to replace the seasonal flu shot. It is intended to be used along-side seasonal flu vaccine to protect people. It is anticipated that seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccines may be administered the same day.
Winnebago County Health Department seasonal and H1N1 immunization clinics will be announced in September.
2. Remember the 3 C’s:
Clean – properly wash your hands frequently. Studies have shown that flu virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person up to 8 hours after being deposited on the surface. Routinely clean areas that multiple people touch often. Special cleaning with bleach and other special cleaners is not necessary.
Cover – cover your cough and sneeze,
Contain – contain your germs by staying home if you are sick. According to Mr. Bacon, “There is much each of us can do to prevent the spread of flu in the workplace, schools and throughout the community. Persons with flu-like symptoms should stay home from school, work, and social gatherings, until 24 hours after resolution of their fever. People give off more flu virus when they have a fever. So staying home during this time will be especially important to not spread the flu to co-workers, friends or fellow students,”
3. Talk with the children: Since influenza is spread as a result of person to person contact, it is very important for people in public to be diligent in following the 3 C’s. School aged students can and will have the greatest impact on our community’s health. With over 66,000 students in Winnebago and Boone counties, this represents the largest communal population. It is imperative that parents and teachers talk to the students about how best to minimize the potential for spreading the influenza viruses.
Important Note for At Risk Individuals: People at high risk for influenza complications who become ill with influenza-like illness should speak with their health care provider as soon as possible. Early treatment with antiviral medications is very important for people at high risk because it can prevent hospitalizations and deaths. People at high risk include those who are pregnant, have asthma or diabetes, have compromised immune systems, or have neuromuscular diseases.
For more information on Seasonal and Novel H1N1flu log onto the following websites:
Center for Disease Control at: www.cdc.gov
Health and Human Services at: www.flu.gov