You may be aware that flu season is starting early this year because of the emergence of the H1N1 flu virus.
H1N1, also known as swine flu, first was reported this spring in Mexico and the United States. It now is widespread, involving all nations and all 50 states in the U.S. H1N1 is the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years.
Because it’s a new viral strain, very few people have immunity to the virus. Since its emergence, the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been collaborating on producing a vaccine against the virus. On Sept. 15, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved four vaccines directed against H1N1.
In order to better understand plans for H1N1 vaccination, there are a few issues to address. As a new strain of flu, previous flu vaccines (including one for the swine flu outbreak in 1976) do not provide immunity to H1N1.
H1N1 vaccine was developed and produced using the same process as the production of regular seasonal flu vaccine. It has undergone rigorous testing by the FDA regarding safety.
This year, there are two flu vaccines – one for the regular seasonal flu and the other for H1N1. Seasonal flu vaccine has been available in most places for about a month. It continues to be recommended for the elderly, children and adolescents, and adults with chronic medical disease.
The H1N1 vaccine should start to become available soon. This vaccine is in the early stages of mass production and likely will be in short supply initially. Unlike seasonal flu vaccine, the entire supply of H1N1 vaccine has been purchased by the U.S. government and will be distributed through state and local health departments. Many providers’ offices will be participating in the vaccination campaign.
The CDC has recommended that priority for H1N1 vaccine be for the following groups:
•People who live with or care for children ages 6 months or younger.
•Health-care or emergency-services personnel with direct patient contact.
•All children ages 6 months to 4 years.
•Children 5 through 18 with chronic medical conditions.
Once vaccine supplies increase, then adults younger than 65 should be vaccinated. Evidence implies that elderly people 65 and older are at lower risk of complications from the illness and should be vaccinated for H1N1 only once vaccine supplies are adequate to protect the higher-risk groups.
Of course, everyone should practice good respiratory hygiene. This includes covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or sleeve and frequent hand-washing. People with flu-like illness consisting of fever, cough, sore throat, aches and fatigue should remain home until the fever has resolved for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication. This should limit the spread of the illness.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a
board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.