By Guest Blogger Dr. William Satterwhite, Twin City Pediatrics
A lot of information continues to swirl about in the media concerning what has been dubbed the “swine” flu. The swine flu, or “H1N1” as it is known in the medical world, is really just a new strain of seasonal flu (Influenza A) that comes through North Carolina every winter. “Seasonal flu,” as I will call it from here on, typically causes about 35,000 deaths in the U.S. every winter. Fortunately for us in pediatrics, only about 100 of those deaths each year are in children, typically in children less than 2 years of age, and about 50% of the time these children have an underlying medical condition which makes them more susceptible to a bad outcome.
Because the H1N1 strain is new, no one is sure exactly what it is going to do. So far, it has been a relatively mild illness. The children we have seen that have tested positive in our office have typically had fevers of over 102 degrees with a mild headache and a little cough, but they have not looked as tired and wiped out as what we see with the seasonal flu. Hopefully, this will be all that the H1N1 will do.
The concern among the infectious disease gurus is that the virulence or “badness” of the H1N1 will increase as we go throughout the year. The CDC and others continue to run models of different levels of virulence with different numbers of infected individuals. They are trying to be prepared in the event of a worst case scenario where millions of Americans are infected, hundreds of thousands to 1.5 million are hospitalized, and several hundred thousand people die. This is unlikely but, thankfully, we have people working on what to do if that happens.
Vaccines remain the best defense against contracting or spreading both kinds of the flu. Seasonal flu vaccines are expected to be available in October, as usual. Vaccines for the new H1N1 virus are currently being produced and tested. It is anticipated that these vaccine doses will be available in the fall, probably around October or so. What is not known yet is how many doses will be available. I have heard numbers that ranged from as low as 50 million to as high as 150 million doses. Currently, the people eligible for the first available H1N1 vaccines are the following: pregnant women; household contacts/caregivers for kids less than 6 months old; healthcare workers; all people from 6 months to 24 years old, and people from 24 years to 64 years old with underlying health conditions. Interestingly, people 65 and older appear to have some immunity to the H1N1 virus, presumably from other flu strains that circulated a long time ago. (A child must be over 6 months old to receive either vaccine.)
So what should you do? First and foremost, don’t panic. Second, get your children vaccinated against both flu strains once those vaccines become available. Third, if you or your child has fever, chills, headache, cough and runny nose, go to the doctor; both strains of the flu are treatable with Tamiflu if you start taking it within the first 48 hours. Finally, wash your hands frequently and don’t suck on your thumb or fingers! If you need more info, the best place to find it is at www.cdc.gov.