If you have the flu, it’s likely swine flu; vaccine now widely offered to keep others well
If you have the flu, surprise — it’s virtually certain to be swine flu. Yes, swine flu, which has prompted 262 hospitalizations in King County since the start of the flu season on Oct. 5. Sixteen people during that time-frame are known to have died.
“Virtually all of the flu circulating nationally is H1N1,” as opposed to seasonal flu, says James Apa, spokesman for Public Health-Seattle & King County .
“The simple answer is we can’t say for sure why.”
Normally at this time of year, health officials definitely would be seeing seasonal flu strains circulating now, but it hasn’t happened, Apa says. One theory is that the pandemic strain crowds out the seasonal-flu strains.
“But the short answer is: we really don’t know,” Apa says.
In an attempt to keep as many healthy people as possible flu-free, Public Health-Seattle & King County announced Friday that there’s lots of H1N1 vaccine available at participating pharmacies and health-care providers — about 114,000 doses for the taking. About 757,000 doses have been received in the county, but only 643,000 people have taken advantage of it.
Now is a good time for anyone six months of age and older to get vaccinated, the agency says.
For people who can’t afford to pay, the agency announced new community H1N1 vaccination clinics for January. Find more information here.
Swine flu “has caused severe illness particularly among children, as well as pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions and weakened immune systems,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, in a press release. “We’re still seeing H1N1 influenza illness in our community, and we can prevent new waves of infection in coming months by vaccinating more people now. The current vaccine has been found to be very effective in protecting against the H1N1 virus.”
The overall death rate due to H1N1 has been lower than expected, but the death rate among children has been 5 to 10 times higher than seasonal flu, the county health agency says.
TIPS IF YOU HAVE THE FLU
- Don’t panic. Most people don’t need to see a doctor; only go if it’s an unusually severe illness. Most people experience and recover from swine flu just like seasonal flu. You may be ill for a week or longer.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Rest.
- Don’t go anywhere unless it’s to get medical care (wear a face mask) or important supplies.
- Most people don’t need antiviral medications (such as Tamiflu). They are NOT recommended — except for people with the flu who are at higher risk from serious health problems from flu or who have severe illness.
- Do not go to work or school until at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine (like Tylenol and ibuprofen).
- Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap or use a hand sanitizer.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the sleeve of your elbow.
- You don’t need to be tested for swine flu. Such testing is “necessary only when people are sick enough to be hospitalized.”
- Children and employees don’t need a note from a doctor to return to school, child care, or work after they are well again. The county health department recommends against getting a doctor’s note.
- For more info, the Flu Hotline at 877-903-KING (5464) is staffed with operators to answer questions from King County residents.