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Don't become complacent about H1N1
Health Matters
op ed mug Gaylor
Lori Gaylor
The H1N1 vaccine is available now in Bryan County. We here at the Richmond Hill Urgent Care Center still have a large inventory of vaccine that needs to be given, as do several other sites in our area, including the health department.
According to the CDC, the virus “is still circulating and causing illness, hospitalization and death.” Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, said there was a “very good” vaccine supply around the country, but that complacency regarding the virus is “probably our top enemy right now.”
Influenza like activity has increased in Region 4 of the US, which includes Georgia. This spike in activity often comes just before an influenza resurgence.
Information from the CDC website also stresses that the flu season is not over yet. Seasonal flu typically peaks in February and March and influenza activity can occur as late as May. So, increased illness from either seasonal flu or H1N1 is still a possibility. There are three states right now with regional influenza activity, and Georgia is one of them. Alabama and South Carolina are the other two. Regional is only one step down from widespread. We were ahead of the rest of the US with our outbreak earlier in the year, and we are still seeing some positive Type A flu patients.
The CDC also cites an example from the 1957-58 pandemic, when flu activity dropped in December and January, “public health officials assumed the worst was over, and stopped encouraging people to get vaccinated. Then flu activity increased abruptly in February and March, and hospitalizations and deaths increased as well.” This is a lesson we should pay careful attention to, as history often does repeat itself.
The H1N1 flu is not gone yet, and due to the widespread availability of the vaccine for anyone over the age of 6 months who wants to protect themselves against H1N1, including people 65 years and older, there is just no good reason not to get vaccinated now. This is an important point, because originally these folks weren’t targeted for vaccination, but the new recommendation is that everyone over six months of age is encouraged to get vaccinated. About 124 million doses of the H1N1 flu vaccine have been shipped to places around the country. Millions more are available at this time. According to a press briefing on Feb. 5 with Dr. Schuchat of the NCIRD, a division of the CDC, about 70 million people in the US have been vaccinated against the H1N1 virus. That is only about 23.4 percent of Americans so far. Estimates are that at least 76 million doses have been given, because some people are getting two doses.
Another group of note is the pediatric population that was hit so hard by complications from the virus. There was a large surge in vaccination rates originally, but kids 6 months through 10 years need a second dose to be adequately protected. As late as two weeks ago, only 37% of children have received their second dose. For those children remaining that still need that second vaccination, they should get it done! The supply is plentiful right now, and even if the interval between the two vaccinations was over 4 weeks, the second dose will still be considered valid.
 The CDC is still recommending that patients who were ill earlier in the year with H1N1 or influenza like illness, even if they were diagnosed with H1N1 by a rapid flu test should still also receive the vaccine, unless their result was confirmed by an RT-PCR test, which was not done for most patients. Vaccination of a person with some immunity from previous H1N1 illness will not be harmful.
 Don’t forget that vaccination against H1N1 will not protect a person from seasonal flu, so both seasonal and H1N1 vaccinations are needed. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about what he or she recommends for you.
 The H1N1 vaccination program involved a partnership between the public health, education, and medical communities, including the private sector. This commitment involves 40,000 to 45,000 providers already in place as well as more than 120,000 providers additionally enrolled, making vaccine available at over 70,000 locations. Let’s follow through with this hard work and get this vaccination program completed!
 In this season of frequent illness, be sure to follow everyday actions to stay healthy. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Wash your hands often. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Stay home when you are sick! Eat healthy foods, drink plenty of fluids, avoid cigarette smoking and get plenty of rest.

Gaylor is a physician’s assistant at Richmond Hill Urgent Care Center.

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