H1N1 outbreaks seem to be declining around the country; however, officials warn that a “third wave” could strike as the nation enters peak flu season, particularly if people ignore health officials’ advice to get vaccinated.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released statistics that show no states with widespread flu activity. The CDC describes “widespread flu activity” as “outbreaks of influenza or increases in influenza-like illnesses and recent laboratory-confirmed influenza in at least half the regions of the state with recent laboratory evidence of influenza in the state.” Only seven states – Alabama, Georgia, Maine, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Virginia –reported regional flu activity. But this lull does not mean the flu is over. The CDC warned that, based on previous pandemics, cases of H1N1 could surge again. It is critical that people get vaccinated against H1N1.The government estimates only one in five Americans has received the H1N1 vaccine since it became available last fall. The latest dip in H1N1 cases has created a window of opportunity for those who want to protect themselves and prevent the spread of H1N1.
Vaccine manufacturers have been able to catch up to demand, producing enough supply for “everyone who wants to get vaccinated,” said Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a Jan. 8 BusinessWeek article. “We’ve got about 132 million doses of vaccine allocated to state and local health departments and more is coming every week.”
The vaccine is now available – conveniently and often at a low cost – at many major chain drug and retail stores, such as Walgreens, CVS and Target. Whether you are in a high or low risk group, it makes sense to get vaccinated. You can find out where the vaccine is available in your neighborhood at flu.gov.
While the vaccine offers the best protection against contracting H1N1, the CDC also recommendsother important preventive steps including:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Disinfect to help destroy viruses and bacteria living on surfaces, especially frequently touched door knobs, hand rails, bathroom fixtures, kitchen counters and children’s toys. One tablespoon of household bleach in a quart of water makes a handy, inexpensive surface disinfectant. Wash surfaces first with soapy water and then apply bleach solution. Let air dry.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine).
Read more about protecting yourself and your family against H1N1 at www.fluandhealth.com.
(Ralph Morris, M.D., M.P.H., is a preventive health and public health physician, and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council).