Flu Pandemic – Key Messages
The middle of winter in northwest Pennsylvania and no flu. What happened?
We in public health don’t know. In 2009 Erie County had flu (H1N1) in the early summer and right thru the fall with a peak late in October. Now it is the peak period for seasonal flu and not a lab confirmed case in sight. Scientists tell us viruses are unpredictable and they certainly got that right.
The H1N1 flu may come back this spring as a pandemic third wave or as a new seasonal flu strain this fall. So getting a H1N1 swine flu vaccine now will help protect you no matter which way the pandemic virus decides to reappear.
The pandemic has been mild so far, unless you were one of its victims. It certainly wasn’t the 1918 type pandemic that public health feared. The H1N1 influenza has been a real pandemic. It has killed more children nationally and hospitalized more people in Erie than the average seasonal flu, but overall, it is less deadly.
So what are we still worried about? We’re worried that the H1N1 virus is not acting like we normally expect flu viruses to act. We had flu during the spring, summer, and late fall in northwestern Pennsylvania. Not a normal scenario for us. The seasonal flu that we get every year at this time has failed to show. Not a normal scenario for us. The H1N1 influenza occurred more often among the young than it did our seniors. Not a normal scenario for us.
So with the 2009/2010 influenza season being an abnormal year what does that mean? We in public health wish that we could tell you. Our role is to prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Get vaccinated with both seasonal and H1N1 vaccine. They are two separate flu viruses and getting only one shot does not protect you from the other. Children nine and under need two shots of the H1N1 vaccine spaced 21-28 days apart, for maximum protection. Encourage as many people as you can to get vaccinated. Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching your nose, or mouth. Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of it right away; or if you don’t have a tissue cough into your shirt sleeve, or elbow. If you have cold symptoms and a fever greater than 100º F. stay home until you are fever free for 24 hours.
The job of public health is to try to make sure that whatever direction events take place, the fewest people are harmed. That’s our business. That’s what we try to do. The H1N1 flu virus has proven itself to be an unpredictable, mind of its own, changeable disease that has the potential to overwhelm a community. Stay informed, get vaccinated and practice good personal hygiene. Influenza is a public health event, but it starts as a personal one.