H1N1: Severity, Vaccines and More News
Last week we published an article with all of the H1N1 basics taken from the World Health Organization including prevention methods, symptoms to look for, treatment and recommendations. The information in that article is not likely to change. Most of the recommendations to avoid the spread of the virus (wash your hands often, isolate sick people as much as possible, avoid crowded public areas) are true for preventing the spread of all viruses. But the news about vaccines—and there is a vaccine for H1N1–and what is being done to prevent the spread of the virus in schools is changing every day. Here is what we know.
Just how deadly is H1N1?
The other night on his show, David Letterman expressed what we were all thinking when he said (and I paraphrase) when swine flu broke out, we were all going to die. Well that was the spring and this is now fall and Armageddon has not come. It seemed that swine flu was going to be the major, world-wide, will-kill-millions-of-people plague that we have been repeatedly warned is coming one day. Letterman was interviewing Dr. Mehmet Oz (a talk show host himself but also a Harvard-trained physician) at the time and Dr. Oz responded that swine flu, known now as H1N1, is actually now known to be a relatively mild flu virus. The fear, he said, is that it will mutate into something more severe, but Dr. Oz says that this is highly unlikely to occur. Yes, some people have died of H1N1, but people die of the seasonal flu every year.
The Ministry of Health in BC reports that the majority of cases here in BC have been mild to moderate in severity with only 52 cases being severe. Only six individuals have died of H1N1 in BC, all of whom had other medical problems that are thought to have contributed to their deaths. The Ministry of Health in BC says that to put that into perspective, 400 to 800 people die of the seasonal flu each year in British Columbia.
Did your kids under 5 get their vaccination this week? Despite the lack of current severity of the H1N1 virus, many people will want to get vaccinated against it. We wear seat belts and use helmets every day to prevent injury in the event of an unlikely accident. Vaccinations serve a similar but important “better to be safe than sorry” purpose. So why not vaccinate in order to be safe? There is a vaccine for H1N1 and there is also a separate vaccine for the seasonal flu. The Canadian government will have enough of the H1N1 vaccine for all of its citizens, including multiple doses for individuals requiring them. How the vaccine will be administered and who the vaccine will be administered to will depend on the decisions made by each province and state’s health authority. To get the details on the vaccine program in your area, go to the website of your province or state’s health authority.
There are a couple important theories out there about H1N1 to report. The first is that individuals who were born after the year 1957 seem to be more susceptible to the virus than those born before this year. This is because a similar strain of the virus appeared prior to this year and those who were alive when it was present are likely to have an immunity to the current virus. The second theory comes out of an unpublished (and therefore unverified and unreplicated) study from here in BC that reports that individuals who have been given the seasonal flu vaccine are more likely to contract the H1N1 virus. This unverified phenomenon has not been found anywhere else in the world however it has contributed to the complicated vaccination schedule. Many Canadian provinces have chosen to act on the side of caution and issue the H1N1 vaccine first (except to those unlikely to contract H1N1) as a result.
Measures being taken in schools
There have been reports of small outbreaks of the flu virus in a few schools in BC. Some schools have had greater than normal absentee numbers this week, but exactly how many of those absentees are actually sick (with any virus) and how many are just staying home as a precaution is unclear. Because schools are crowded public places, the likelihood of rapid transmission of any virus is considerable. As a result, schools have been advised to take many measures to protect their students from getting ill but each school is making its own decisions for its actions. Therefore it is important to learn what your child’s school is doing to protect its students.
The Ministry of Health in BC has issued a thorough webpage with Information for Parents, Students and Schools.
To conclude, there is simply no need at the moment for worldwide panic over H1N1. The best thing you can do is follow the regular guidelines for good health and illness prevention set out by the World Health Organization and to remain aware of the most current guidelines and programs for prevention in your province or state and in your child’s school. Be sure to guard yourself against rumour and fear-mongering by ensuring your information comes from multiple, reliable sources. If we all do our part, we will be able to keep the virus largely under control.
- Danica Longair
Please consult your Doctor or Health Practitioner if you have concerns about health. Urbanmommies.com tries to provide an overview and insight into health issues, but you should consult a professional before making any medical decision.