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Health and Wellness

Pandemic rates for seasonal flu and H1N1

In his monthly column, Dr. Kent Herbert answers your questions related to health care matters. Simply submit your question to It’s your chance to ask the doc.Last month I wrote about the influenza virus and the expected spread of both the seasonal flu and H1N1, or swine flu. Since that time, it has spread as expected and affected many people, although the recommendations for testing, treatment and vaccination have changed.Influenza is usually easily recognizable in that it causes fever, chills, body aches, congestion, cough and sore throat. Unlike the common cold, these symptoms start suddenly and involve the entire body. Also unlike a cold, these symptoms can last for several weeks, although many people with the flu will not be sick that long. Testing is available for the flu, but it is usually not needed. If you get sick quickly, are sick all over and feel poorly, it is likely the flu and very likely H1N1.Influenza rates currently are at pandemic levels, meaning that it is widespread throughout the country, and the numbers of people getting the flu are higher than normal. During the first weeks of October, 41 percent of sick visits to doctors were for suspected flu, whereas the typical rate is 2.3 percent of visits.Although the symptoms of seasonal and H1N1 flu are identical, virtually all of the flu being confirmed is H1N1 flu. Because of the high number of cases, routine testing is not recommended for healthy individuals who are sick. The reason for this is the vast majority of people who get the flu will be sick for some time, but will not require treatment and will recover without difficulty. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control is currently recommending that people who are sick with suspected flu rest at home, take cold medicines as needed, drink plenty of fluids and stay away from work or school.Most people do not need to be seen for the flu. Antiviral medications are available for influenza, but unlike antibiotics for bacterial infections, they do not eliminate the disease but rather shorten the duration and lessen the severity. Because resistance to these medications develops quickly, they are only recommended for very ill individuals, such as those hospitalized with the flu or those with significant chronic illnesses. You should be seen by a doctor, usually in the emergency room, if you have symptoms of the flu and also are experiencing shortness of breath, dehydration, or worsening or severe symptoms.A vaccine for H1N1 flu is currently available, but the supply of this vaccine is much less than expected. The El Paso County Department of Health and Environment has had to cancel several of its scheduled flu shot clinics due to a reduced supply, and it is unlikely that this will change significantly. Some doctors’ offices have agreed to distribute the vaccine, but the supply flows through the health department so these supplies are reduced as well. According to the CDC, there is not a shortage of vaccine, but it is being released initially at a low rate. During this time, it will only be available for high-risk individuals. Currently, this includes pregnant women, people who care for infants less than six months of age, health care workers and children between the ages of six months and four years. Older children and adults with certain chronic medical conditions may also receive it if it is available.The flu, whether it is seasonal or H1N1, is generally treated like any other illness. Rest, fluids and Tylenol are the mainstays of treatment and will work for the majority of people. If you have severe symptoms, see your doctor or go to the emergency room. It is best to stay home until a fever has broken for at least 24 hours, and other symptoms such as cough and runny nose have resolved. The vaccine is a good idea for those who qualify, but otherwise healthy people shouldn’t worry about the reduced supply.Dr. Kent HerbertBoard-Certified Family PhysicianFalcon Family Medicine7641 McLaughlin RoadFalcon, CO 80831(719) 494-2006(719) 494-8448

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