Everything you need to know about ‘swine flu’

Published 9:58 am Thursday, October 8, 2009

Every year around this time, folks start to prepare for flu season. The combination of school being back in session and the change in weather creates the perfect nesting ground for influenza. This year however, the global epidemic known as H1N1 Influenza has drawn more attention to our country’s flu preparations.

First, it is important to note that the term “swine flu” is a misnomer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there is no evidence that this virus has been found in swine in the United States, and there have been no illnesses attributed to handling or consuming pork.

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H1N1, a strain of the flu, is an epidemic that continues to cause concern nationally and internationally. So far symptoms and recovery have been similar to those of the regular seasonal flu.

Yet, we know that each year the flu causes 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths and should always be taken seriously.

Since the H1N1 outbreak last spring, the U.S. government has been working to develop a vaccine, which is expected to be ready in early October. Certain groups of people are particularly encouraged by the CDC to receive the H1N1 flu vaccine.

These groups include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years old, and people ages of 25 through 64 years of age who are at higher risk for 2009 H1N1 because of chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Initial doses of the H1N1 vaccine will be prioritized for this target population.

While the vaccine for the H1N1 flu is still being distributed, a separate vaccine that will protect you from the regular seasonal flu is now available.

People age 50 or older, and the groups mentioned earlier, are also at increased risk for the regular seasonal flu and are encouraged to get their seasonal flu shot as soon as possible.

As with any health related matter, I encourage you to consult your health provider about your particular situation.

They are best prepared to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Vaccines will be available at a variety of locations including vaccination clinics organized by local health departments, doctor’s offices, schools, pharmacies and workplaces.

CDC’s H1N1 Web site, www.flu.gov, is a great resource for information about preventing and treating both the H1N1 and regular seasonal flu. You can also call 1-800-CDC-INFO for more information.

Should you contract the flu, it is important to speak with your doctor about antivirals which may make the illness milder and help you feel better faster.

As part of its pandemic preparedness efforts, the U.S. government has purchased extensive supplies of antiviral drugs, including Oseltanivir and Zanamivir. Testing so far indicates that the H1N1 virus is susceptible to both of these antivirals.

As in the past, the flu vaccine is voluntary although recommended by the CDC. It is up to you whether you choose to immunize yourself or your family, but there are other things we can all do to help stop the spread of influenza and other diseases.

Smart, daily habits like washing your hands often and making healthy lifestyle choices like exercising and eating right are your best defense against getting sick.

I hope you will use this information to fortify yourself and your family against illness this winter.

Sen. George Voinovich represent Ohio in the U.S. Senate.