Flu season is here. And it has brought its nasty cousin swine flu (H1N1) with it. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swine flu began to spread in the US last spring, picked up some steam over the summer and now as the usual flu season begins is expected to spread quickly.
"It didn't go away this summer," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases on a conference call with reporters Sept. 24. "We expected that the fall would bring an increase in flu illness, and that is exactly what we're seeing."
The good news is that the government's voluntary vaccination program for the swine flu is on schedule. According to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius 6-7 million doses of the swine flu vaccine will be available in the first week of October, with 40 million doses ready by the middle of the month. Another 10-20 million doses will be ready each week after that.
Congress has appropriated the money to pay for the voluntary vaccination program, so each doses should be distributed without cost to Americans who want one, Sebelius told reporters.
In addition, the CDC coordinated distribution of the vaccine with state and local governments. No one inside the beltway has mandated where and how the vaccine will be distributed, Sebelius stated. People seeking doses of swine flu vaccine should check with state and local health officials.
Dr. Schuchat also explained some of the basic symptoms and treatments for the swine flu. First, some people who catch H1N1 show minor flu-like symptoms very briefly and get better quickly. Other people, especially children or adults with underlying health issues such as pregnancy or chronic illnesses, seem to experience more difficult symptoms.
In the latter cases, people should seek medical attention, especially if they experience difficulty with breathing. Children might turn blue or grey or have difficulty being awakened. In some cases, people infected with the swine flu seem to get better, but then turn for the worse as additional infections like pneumonia set in.
People who have these symptoms should seek medical attention right away, Dr. Schuchat said.
She also warned against taking antiviral medications as a preventive measure against the swine flu or the seasonal flu. They should only be used to treat symptoms. Taking doses of antivirals won't prevent the flu, but may in fact lower resistance to infection.
Sebelius added that people ten and over will need only a single dose of the vaccine, as clinical trials seem to indicate that it is a perfect match for the swine flu this season. Children six months to 10 years should receive two doses, as they should with the seasonal flu. Scientific studies indicate that children under 10 do not build up enough resistance to the flu with a single dose.
More information can be found at Flu.gov.