The H1N1 is a scary thing. Influenza, to me, is more scary than many other infectious diseases because it occurs in many species (humans, pigs, fowls, etc.) and the continual combining of DNA from these species leads to new influenza types.
H1N1 is an Influenza A virus that's new to health and public health officials. Regular seasonal flu is also a type A virus (I think), but with different DNA components. Because it's a new variant, illness is distributed across the entire population with mortality occurring in all groups, but especially in those not normally seriously affected by seasonal flu. [note: this is a general statement and better, and more qualified researchers have written much about influenza.]
There are two issues regarding pandemic flu. One is to realize that pandemic only means that it's widespread. It related to the distribution, NOT severity or mortality. The other is that for severity (mortality), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a Pandemic Severity Index that is similar to a hurricane scale, e.g., as it becomes more dangerous/life threatening, the rating increases.
So, one can declare a pandemic (widespread illness in the population), but with low mortality (similar to now, but it could change). Conversely, a pandemic with high mortality is something like the 1918 outbreak.
Regardless of the situation, though, there are great, easy ways to prevent flu.
#1 - Handwashing
Yep. Handwashing. NPR's Talk of the Nation recently did a short bit on Finding the Right Hand Scrubbing Message (audio or transcript).
#2 - Covering Your Cough/Sneeze
Coupled with handwashing, covering coughs and sneezes is a great way to stop spreading germs. Take 5 minutes and watch Why Don't We Do It In Our Sleeves?
There are many more things you can do to protect yourself. Check out the following:
- Pandemic Flu (CDC site) - http://pandemicflu.gov/
- Seasonal Flu (CDC site) - http://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm
- H1N1 Flu (CDC site) - http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/
- Ready (US Government) - http://www.ready.gov/
- NW Ohio Pandemic Flu - http://nwopandemicflu.org/default.aspx (for those of you in NW Ohio and/or are interested in the project I worked on this summer)
- You should make the decision with your medical professional. Read first, though and know what groups are at risk and whether you and your loved ones fall into a high-risk group. The H1N1 has different risk groups than regular seasonal flu, so know the difference.
- Realize that if you've been getting flu shots all along, that the H1N1 is another version of it. It isn't an entirely new vaccine, say the difference between one for chicken pox and one for tetanus, but similar to the difference between the seasonal flu shot this year vs. the one last year. Public Health officials happen to know this year of two types of flu that are about and were able to produce vaccine for both types.
- Vaccines are intended to either prevent getting a disease or to reduce it's severity. You may receive the vaccine and still get seasonal or H1N1 flu, just not as bad.
Let's say your county has 10,000 people.
The infection rate is 50% - 5,000 sick people.
The hospital admission rate is around 4% - that's 200 people admitted to a hospital
Walking-Well/Worried-Well is 10X - that's 2,000 people who need care; who will divert critical resources, who will use limited resources.
So, to sum up our lesson today:
1. Flu sucks.
2. Wash your hands, cover your coughs/sneezes.
(Rating others silently is also fun)
3. Talk to you medical professional about vaccination.
4. Think about the medical resources you really need. See if your physician, pediatrician, public health department has someone you can talk to.