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Guest Column: An update on 'other' flu

by Amy SmartLincoln County Public Health Dept.
| October 10, 2009 12:00 AM

The first case of Novel H1N1 influenza in Lincoln County has been confirmed.

A specimen was sent to the Kalispell Regional Medical Center Lab for RT PCR testing after rapid testing came up positive for influenza A. To honor confidentiality all that can be said at this point is that has been confirmed and has affected the expected age group at mild to moderate severity.

The national media makes the H1N1 flu situation look pretty bleak, and almost frightening. Just keep in mind these reports come out of the same big cities where everything comes to a screeching halt if it snows three inches.

Novel H1N1 is the same flu bug that we originally called swine flu last spring. Undoubtedly people will get sick, and some will even die. However, this happens regardless of new strains of influenza.

According to the most recent compilation of the Nation Vital Statistics Reports of the CDC, motor-vehicle accidents killed 43,664 Americans in 2006; but you don’t see us closing down highways or opting to quit driving altogether. We wear seatbelts, use headlights, and learn the rules of the road to avoid accidents. In the same way we do our best to avoid accidents, we can do our best to avoid illness.

We’ve come a long way baby! The emigrants on the Mayflower got sick with upper respiratory disease upon arrival in New England. They stayed on the ship enclosed with each other sharing food, water and air space during the peak of cold and flu season. They didn’t have the luxury of social distancing or hand hygiene.

Here in northwestern Montana we are fortunate to have these basics and more! Most of us have access to water … even hot running water! We have the technology of laboratory testing, antiviral medications and vaccines! We can stay away from each other when we’re sick and use disposable soft tissues to blow our noses into! Even without all of these modern conveniences, of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 53 survived that first winter with a new strain of illness they didn’t have immunity to.

Novel H1N1 influenza won’t be recognized by our bodies so we may not be able to mount an effective immune response. It’s time to take hand washing and cough/sneeze techniques up a notch, Lincoln County. There is plenty of influenza-like illness and upper respiratory infection going around right now that is not H1N1 flu.

Pay attention to how often you touch your nose. Be alert to your habits, which may put you at risk for getting or spreading germs. Make small changes and encourage those around you to by hygienically courteous. Microorganisms don’t take a day off!

Obviously not everyone will be as conscientious of his or her hygiene as others. So, what are we to do? Well, you can start by getting enough rest. Don’t burn the candle at both ends, especially during cold and flu season! Does your body have all the nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs to rally an immune response? How about your fluid levels, are you getting enough free water to keep you truly hydrated?

You can use this time to assess your health status! Seek out books and resources on keeping your body healthy. If you need ideas drop me a line at lcphep@libby.org . Make an appointment with your doctor for a preventative exam if you haven’t had one for a while and ask what immunizations are available for you.

Vaccine to protect against H1N1 influenza is gradually becoming available. Montana counties are receiving vaccine determined by population. A small amount of vaccine arrived in Lincoln County on Oct. 8, the day before the novel flu was officially here. One hundred doses of live attenuated intranasal vaccine were received by Lincoln County Public Health and distributed to local providers. This intranasal vaccine is only appropriate for healthy 2-49 year-olds. Please call your primary care provider or the public health department for an appointment as you see fit.

The Eureka Public Health Immunization Clinic can be reached at 296-2023. The Libby Public Health Immunization Clinic can be reached at 293-2660. Novel H1N1 vaccination is strictly voluntary, and is recommended for those most vulnerable to this new flu strain like pregnant women, caregivers of infants under 6 months, health-care workers and children and adolescents with underlying medical complications.

The nasal spray vaccine is not licensed for use in pregnant women. Pregnant women should not receive nasal spray vaccine for either seasonal flu or 2009 H1N1 flu. After delivery, women can receive the nasal spray vaccine, even if they are breastfeeding.

We need to be prepared to stop the spread of disease without a vaccine. However, we have a few tools to help us do this. Staying away from each other when we’re sick, also called social distancing, is one of the tools in our toolbox.  Another is keeping things clean, like hands, doorknobs, telephones, and the air around us. Hand hygiene is still the very best method we have to stop the spread of germs.

Please wash your hands before and after you touch your nose, and cover your coughs and sneezes to keep the germs from escaping further than they have to.  Use the sanitizers provided in public places, like the wipes at Rosauers. Lincoln County Public Health has no intention of closing schools or putting a hold on group gatherings. We think that we can avoid this if sick people will stay home.

If you have symptoms of influenza (fever, cough, sore throat) call your primary care provider’s office for instructions. If you are sick, you are strongly encouraged to stay home. Please, don’t go to the divisional ball tournament if you have a fever or feel like you might be getting one! If your temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, you shouldn’t go to that meeting, or that social event, or even that Treasure Tones Christmas concert!

Grab a box of tissues, the symptom relieving method of your choice, and the remote control and stay home!

(Amy Smart, registered nurse, is the public health emergency preparedness coordinator for Lincoln County. For those with questions, she can be reached at 293-3374. For more information, go online to www.flu.gov )