Sunday, September 13, 2009

H1N1 Influenza

This spring a new influenza virus began causing illness in Mexico. This virus was originally called “Swine flu” because the virus genes were similar to those that infect pigs. This new virus has been renamed H1N1. The H1N1 virus is a hybrid with genetic elements of swine influenza, avian influenza and human influenza. Since it was first recognized in April 2009 it has been spreading around the world. The World Health Organization has now officially declared it a pandemic. The traditional seasonal influenza virus vaccines do not offer protection against this novel strain. Over the past several months we have been inundated with the media hype over the potential outcomes of a pandemic. There has been a lot of confusion and fear generated. Now that we have had some experience with a large enough number of people who have been infected we have more reliable information available. The CDC now estimates that there have been more than one million cases in the US and most are mild. There have been more than 550 lab confirmed deaths thus far. In a typical flu season with seasonal flu virus there is an estimated 36,000 deaths. What we have learned about this virus that is different from seasonal flu is that it is potentially more problematic for school-aged children, adolescents and young adults. In contrast seasonal flu is more dangerous for the elderly and children under four. The CDC reports that 80% of the children who have died from H1N1 thus far have been older than five. Two-thirds of these children who have died had underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk. These were mostly neuro-developmental conditions like cerebral palsy. In those otherwise healthy children for whom the infection was lethal a secondary bacterial infection played a role.

We as parents need to be more vigilant than ever protecting our children. The good news is that there will be a vaccine available mid-October to protect against the H1N1 strain. I strongly encourage you to find out more about this from your Pediatrician. Below are the CDC guidelines to prevent illness.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Stay home if you get sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.

The symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, sore throat, chills, fatigue, body aches and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. In the event that your child does come down with the Swine flu, seek immediate medical attention. If your child is seen within the first 48 hours of illness there are anti-viral medications that can be given. If you are a breast feeding mom and come down with the flu, you can continue to breast feed your baby. A mother’s milk is made to fight disease.

We cherish our children. Let’s work together to keep them safe and healthy!

Dr. Susan Hunsinger, MD
Advance Pediatrics, Advance, NC