Winter is winding down, spring is around the corner, and news about the H1N1 flu virus has just about disappeared from the news. So after all the stories about vaccine shortages and fears of a pandemic, what was the final tally in Missouri?
“Influenza H1N1 has decreased steadily since early November and, although not completely gone, is now at a very low level nationally and locally. Seasonal flu has remained at just a trickle,” says Dr. Michael Cooperstock, medical director of the Infection Control Department at the University of Missouri Health Care in Columbia.
“But, influenza is not always predictable, and either one could still take off at any time. The usual flu season has about another month to run.”
From August 2009 to February 2010, 40,030 Americans were hospitalized and 1,937 died from seasonal influenza and H1N1. During this same time frame, 324 children died from these diseases, as well. In Missouri, more than 28,000 people were diagnosed with influenza – 136 of them in Texas County.
While the peak of flu season is past, this doesn’t mean the virus, and its cousin, seasonal flu, aren’t lurking about.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it’s possible that the United States could experience another wave of flu activity caused by either 2009 H1N1 or seasonal influenza.
So, if you haven’t been vaccinated, should you be? Cooperstock says that it depends.
“Anyone at risk of complications (6 months to 5 years of age, over 65 years of age, and those with chronic medical conditions) may still benefit from having both the H1N1 and seasonal influenza vaccines,” Cooperstock says.
“Family members and others with close contact with these ‘at risk’ individuals should also be immunized.”
The vaccine to protect against H1N1 and seasonal flu are widely available. The CDC says it’s important to remember to get vaccinated for both types of flu this fall: H1N1 and the seasonal flu. Getting only the seasonal flu shot will not prevent you from getting H1N1.
To help prevent a late-season flu illness, Health Literacy Missouri recommends the following guidelines to help prevent infection:
–Wash your hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
–Avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands. Use the crook of your elbow instead.
–Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. The virus can remain on objects such as doorknobs after an infected person touches it. Others can become infected by touching the doorknob, then rubbing their eyes.
–Stay home if you’re sick, especially if you have a fever.
Missouri residents can call this 24-hour, free phone number, 877-FLU-4141 (877-358-4141), for information about the H1N1 flu, from symptoms and basic medical advice to the availability of the new H1N1 vaccine.
For more information, visit www.flu.gov, where you can learn more about H1N1 as well as the seasonal flu.