H1N1: in most cases it’s ‘just the flu’

Thu, 08/27/2009 - 2:22pm
By: John Munford

Sick students still coming to Fayette schools, increasing potential spread of flu

With the numbers of ill students increasing in Fayette’s public schools in recent days, parents may be a little more worried about the affects of the novel H1N1 strain of flu.

While H1N1 is most certainly making the rounds all over Fayette and not just in schools, there is some good news, health officials said today: in most all cases, it’s “just the flu.”

Infectious disease physician Jyoti Somani said Thursday that anyone with the flu can expect typical flu symptoms.

“The majority of people will do fine,” Somani said.

The fatality rate for this strain of flu is below that of the “regular” seasonal flu, but medical professionals are still urging caution because children are more susceptible to the virus than older people.

Somani said children should see a physician for their flu if they develop trouble breathing, a high fever that lasts for several days (and is unresponsive to fever-reducing medicine), or if they become dehydrated because they are unable to keep fluids down.

Others who should seek medical attention for flu symptoms are those who have chronic illnesses such as lung disease, Somani said.

At a meeting of Fayette medical providers Thursday, Somani said antiviral drugs may not help patients, but later down the road could negatively affect the body’s ability to build resistance to the virus.
“Antiviral medications don’t eliminate the virus,” Somani said. “They inhibit its growth.”

Somani explained that when the body catches the flu virus, it naturally builds up an immunity that can be helpful later on down the line.

Ultimately, though, the decision on administering antiviral drugs is up to each medical provider, officials said.

One thing not in local doctor’s arsenal is a test to confirm whether patients indeed have the novel H1N1 flu strain. The state labs are only accepting tests from patients who are already hospitalized due to the flu, so there is no way to order such tests for patients who are not in the hospital, officials said.

There is a “quick test” for the novel H1N1 flu strain, but it is not incredibly accurate, Somani said.

Head school nurse Debbie King said Fayette’s schools are using an excellent disinfectant on surfaces routinely and encouraging good handwashing technique. Students are also being taught how to use tissues or cough into their sleeve to prevent the spread of germs.

School buses are also being cleaned between busloads in effort to stop the flu from spreading, King said.

Schools are also identifying students as they begin to show symptoms so they can be sent to the school clinic immediately in hopes of not contaminating the rest of the class should they have the flu, she said.
King said the system has continued to receive students who are ill right when they get off the bus in the morning. In many of those cases, the students had told their parents they were sick, but the parents made them go to school anyway.
Parents are asked to keep sick children at home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without the help of any medicine, King said.

Local emergency officials have already prepared plans to handle mass distribution of the novel H1N1 vaccine once it becomes available. Because the vaccine will be in limited supply initially, it will be distributed to those considered at higher risk for the strain, officials said Thursday.

The vaccine is expected to be available beginning in September and will require multiple doses spread apart by several weeks, said District 4 Public Health Director Dr. Mike Brackett.

The vaccine will be available in injectable form with some of the supply also in the form of a nasal spray.

In all likelihood the target audience for the first round of vaccinations would include pregnant women, children, and young adults aged 6 months through 24 years, as well as persons aged 25 through 64, who have medical conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related complications, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Two other risk groups are those who are at higher risk of exposure or transmitting the virus to those who may be at high risk such as health care workers and emergency medical service workers, and persons who live with or care for infants younger than 6 months of age, that is, who are too young to be vaccinated.

Local officials have convened a task force about flu response for the past several months and will continue to do so, said Chief Allen McCullough of the Fayette County Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

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Submitted by Jenn H on Thu, 08/27/2009 - 7:47pm.

I'm sorry, but the regular flu season in the northern hemisphere is usually November to March. Do any health professionals that think "in most all cases, this is 'just the flu'" have an explanation for why it has started so early this year?

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