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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Double Trouble: H1N1 Flu and Seasonal Flu

October 29, 2009

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Primary Care Nurse Jewel Thornton, L.V.N. gives U.S. Army Veteran Albert LeBlanc his seasonal flu shot. Vaccination remains the single most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu.

 

HOUSTON – If you have read a newspaper or watched the news lately, you probably have heard about an unusual flu virus making people sick this year. The “H1N1 Flu,” also known as “Novel Flu” or “Swine Flu,” is different from the annual, “Seasonal Flu” health care providers see every fall and winter.

The H1N1 Flu is of concern to experts in the medical community because it is so new that very few people have any protection or “immunity” which means the virus may easily find vulnerable people to infect. As a result, it may spread rapidly to large numbers of people. Therefore, health care facilities may find it difficult to care for large numbers of patients with severe illness.

Another concern is the H1N1 Flu appears to cause a more severe illness in younger adults than the Seasonal Flu.

However, it is important not to ignore or forget about the Seasonal Flu. It kills approximately 36,000 Americans each year and hospitalizes more than 200,000. Luckily, in most people, the flu ranges from a mild cold to a nasty, feverish illness with a sore throat, headaches, and muscle aches.

Each year, health care experts predict which Seasonal Flu virus will spread and start the production of a flu vaccine in time to protect our citizens. 

The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) and its four outpatient clinics are currently vaccinating against Seasonal Flu. Vaccination remains the single most effective way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu.

Veterans who should seriously consider vaccination for Seasonal Flu are:

  • Over 65 years of age
  • Residents of long-term facilities
  • With long-term health problems of the heart, lungs, asthma, kidneys, or diabetes and other metabolic diseases
  • With muscle or nerve disorders involving swallowing or breathing
  • With weakened immune systems
  • Women Veterans who may be pregnant during the flu season

Although H1N1 Flu has been spreading slowly for the last year, it has taken scientists longer to get the right strain of virus to make, test, and produce a vaccine against it.  A H1N1 Flu vaccine is currently being distributed. The MEDVAMC received its first shipment of 300 doses in mid-October.

Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the following groups have priority for the H1N1 Flu vaccine:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with or provide care for infants younger than 6 months
  • Health care and emergency medical services personnel
  • People 6 months through 24 years of age
  • People 25 years through 64 years of age who have certain medical conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related complications

Once the demand for vaccine for the first four groups has been met, the CDC recommends vaccinating everyone from the ages of 25 through 64 years. Current studies indicate the risk for H1N1 infection among persons 65 and older is less than the risk for younger age groups. Once vaccine demand among younger age groups has been met, the CDC recommends providers should offer vaccination to people 65 or older.

Both types of flu are thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people. You can reduce your chance of getting sick and infecting others by:

  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put the tissue in the trash after use.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water. Carry and use an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Washing your hands after contact with items in public places like telephones, pens, and shopping carts.
  • Avoiding close contact with people sick with flu.
  • If you become ill, stay home until at least 24 hours after the fever is gone. 

For more information about the H1N1 Flu, the Seasonal Flu, and vaccines for both, contact the MEDVAMC Preventive Medicine Program at (713) 794-8768 or visit the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov *.

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* This link will take you outside of the Department of Veterans Affairs Web site and will open in a new window. VA does not endorse and is not responsible for the content of linked Web sites.