As most people are aware, there is a novel influenza (also known as swine flu) strain, identified as H1N1, circulating throughout the world and in several states across the United States. As of May 5, 2009, there are 403 H1N1 positive cases across the country. In New York state there are 90 laboratory-confirmed cases in New York City and 17 probable/confirmed cases of H1N1 influenza outside of New York City. Although the situation is serious, people should not panic. To put this in perspective, more than 200,000 people across the country are hospitalized each year due to seasonal flu. We encourage the public, especially those with underlying medical conditions, to get flu shots every year because more than 30,000 people die from complications due to seasonal flu. At this point, one person in the United States has died from H1N1 influenza.
Since this is a new virus, public health officials are being cautious and we do not know how the virus will respond within the human population. County health departments are working closely with physicians on identifying possible cases of H1N1 influenza and following the recommended treatment from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). To minimize the spread of H1N1 influenza, we are asking people to be alert and seek medical advice if they exhibit flu-like symptoms. These include fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat, fatigue, headache, chills, body aches, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Those people exhibiting these symptoms should call their doctor's office for further instruction on how to best receive medical treatment.
All flu viruses are transmitted easily from person to person. You can take steps, however, to minimize your risk of getting the flu. The following are effective ways of reducing your risk:
Washing your hands often with soap and warm water. Alcohol-based hand cleansers are also effective.
Avoiding people who are ill.
Staying home from work or school if you are sick.
Using a tissue when you cough, sneeze or spit, and dispose of the tissue in a covered trash bin.
Keeping hands away from your face. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Cleaning shared space more often, such as phone receivers, keyboards, steering wheels and office equipment.
Refraining from sharing personal items such as forks, spoons, toothbrushes and towels.
Schools have now received guidance from the CDC and the NYS DOH regarding possible closures. If the decision to close a school is made by the local health department and school administrators, parents should be aware that all after-school activities will also be suspended. Further, the closing will be in effect for no less than 14 days and students will be advised to avoid mass-gathering events at local shopping malls or other venues.
There have not been any cases of H1N1 or swine flu in Franklin or nearby counties to date, but local health departments, emergency services, school administrators, hospitals and other health care providers are working together to prevent the spread of the disease by being alert for possible cases and prompt testing and treatment if needed.
You can find out more about seasonal and H1N1 flu as well as general preparedness at home. We suggest you go to the CDC's Web site http://www.pandemicflu.gov/ or the NYS DOH Web site at http://www.nyhealth.gov/swineflu, or call the New York state hot line toll free at 1-800-808-1987. You can also call the Franklin County Public Health Department at 518-481-1709 or 518-891-4471 for any questions about flu concerns or about being prepared for emergencies.
Mose Herne is director of Public Health for Franklin County, based in Malone.