Fighting the Flu

Published 5:34 pm Saturday, October 17, 2009

There’s no way to deny flu season is in full swing.

On Friday, students at Bearfield Primary School in Ahoskie lined up for the seasonal flu nasal mist.

The clinic, conducted by the Hertford County Public Health Authority (HCPHA), served approximately 280 students in kindergarten through 3rd grades, according to Bearfield Primary School Nurse Elizabeth Hollingsworth.

Esther M. Watford, lead nurse for HCPHA, said seven nurses along with the help of 11 nursing students from Roanoke Chowan Community College administered the nasal mist. Similar clinics have been held at Ahoskie Elementary School and Riverview Elementary School in Murfreesboro.

In Northampton County, the same has been done at schools by the Northampton County Health Department.

Albemarle Regional Health Services, a public health agency that serves several counties, including Bertie, has partnered with schools to provide influenza vaccine and information to the parents and students through the local health departments.

While another batch of the seasonal flu vaccination is not expected until the end of the month, getting vaccinated is one of the recommendations in preventing sickness.

Meanwhile, local health departments are beginning to see doses of vaccine for the Novel H1N1 Flu trickle in.

Though the seasonal flu and Novel H1N1 are similar in nature, the difference is Novel H1N1 is a new strain of Type A influenza.

The Novel H1N1 virus is now widespread with local health officials confirming cases of Novel H1N1 flu in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties.

According to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Chief Epidemiologist Megan Davies, the Novel H1N1 virus is the only reported flu virus currently circulating in North Carolina.

Northampton County Health Director Sue Gay and Preparedness Coordinator/ Public Information Officer Sharon Long said those exhibiting flu like symptoms are being treated for Novel H1N1, as that is the current prevalent virus.

Symptoms for H1N1 include: fever (officials cautioned not everyone with the flu will have a fever), cough,

sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills,

fatigue, sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.

Treatment for those with the flu includes rest, plenty of fluids, and use of over the counter medicines as needed. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without use of fever reducing medicines (Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen) except to get medical care or other necessities.

Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever.

While sick, avoidance of normal activities, including work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings are recommended.

According to officials, there are medicines physicians may prescribe for treating both seasonal and Novel H1N1 called “antivi¬rals.” Antivirals can make a patient feel better and may also prevent serious complications.

This flu season, antiviral drugs are being used mainly to treat people who are very sick, such as people who need to be hospitalized, and to treat sick people who are more likely to get serious flu complications.

A trip to a health care provider will determine whether antiviral drugs are needed to treat an illness.

Officials said most people with Novel H1N1 have had mild illness and have not needed medical care or antiviral drugs and the same is true of seasonal flu.

The CDC continues to encourage vaccination for both seasonal and H1N1 flu viruses.

All three health agencies in the area have received their first shipment of H1N1, but due to a limited supply precedence will be given to priority groups.

Those target groups include pregnant women, people who live with or care for infants younger than six months of age, health care and emergency medical personnel, anyone from six months through 24 years of age, anyone from 25 through 64 years of age with certain chronic medical conditions or a weakened immune system should be vaccinated.

Officials said as more doses become available, healthy 25 through 64 year olds and adults 65 years and older should be vaccinated.

Healthcare providers will also have the vaccine available for their patients.

There are two ways for vaccination either by flu nasal mist or flu shot.

The flu mist, is considered live, attenuated intranasal vaccine (or LAIV). This is a weakened form of the virus, so as to not cause illness. This will assist the body in recognition of the virus and develop a natural immunity.

Officials said the flu mist is recommended for people who are ages 2 to 49 years who are not pregnant.

Flu mist is not recommended for those who have severely weakened immune system, certain muscle or nerve disorders, children under 5 years with asthma, or those with long term health problems. Those who are severely allergic to eggs or any other substance in the vaccine are not recommended to take the flu mist.

The flu shot is inactivated and commonly given in the upper arm. This is a “dead” virus strain which the body recognizes and assists with natural resistance to the flu illness.

According to CDC guidelines, two LAIV or flu mists cannot be given at the same time. The second dose (for children) or second LAIV or flu mist may be administered after 28 days of the initial vaccine given. However, flu mist and the flu shot may be given at the same time.

All three health agencies stressed the importance of prevention, some tips to thwart the flu and H1N1 include:

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

Frequent hand washing, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Stay home and limit contact with others if you get sick.

Try to avoid close contact with sick people.