The Pennsylvania Department of Health has confirmed nine illnesses and 29 probable illnesses due to variant influenza A H3N2 virus - aka THE FLU. These cases occurred in persons with close contact with swine (aka THE SWINE FLU). The patients who were diagnosed with the flu all were recently at a county fair.
Nationally, a total of 288 illnesses due to the flu virus have been reported in 10 states, including Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia. Close to 90 percent of those who got sick were 18 or younger. There have been 15 persons hospitalized and sadly one death reported. This illness, in children, can obviously be severe.
Any type of flu have similar symptoms. The flu and common cold also have similar symptoms, but the flu is more severe. Symptoms of the flu can include a fever of 100 degrees or higher, a cough and/or sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and/or body aches, chills, fatigue, and nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Diarrhea is more common in children. A doctor or healthcare provider can test you for the flu.
Antiviral medications can be prescribed to any patient where the disease is severe, at high risk, or require hospitalization. Antiviral medications can be started any time during the course of the illness.
With school now in session, the state health department has concerns about the virus and its potential spread in the school environment. Children with influenza-like illness should remain at home. According to the state health department, "If such illness is identified at school, the ill child should be removed from the classroom and sent home. Since H3N2v virus has demonstrated only limited person-to-person spread, the risk for widespread transmission in schools is presently low. Therefore, children diagnosed with this infection may return to school 24 hours after becoming afebrile (no fever) and off of antipyretic medications."
Those visiting agricultural fairs should take precautions to reduce the risk of infections with live animals including swine (pigs). The easiest way to prevent infection is to wash your hands after visiting live animal exhibits. "Visitors and participants should avoid consuming food or beverages and placing objects in their mouth in these areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that persons at high risk of complications from influenza avoid areas where live pigs are exhibited to reduce their risk of exposure to H3N2v. This includes children less than 5 years of age, pregnant women, persons with compromised immune systems, and those with certain chronic underlying health conditions."
Another way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. Anyone over the age of six months and older should get the flu vaccine. Vaccination is especially important for anyone at a higher risk of severe influenza. All healthcare personnel and people in close contact with children younger than six months should also be vaccinated. The 2012- 2013 Influenza Vaccines are now available. If interested in getting your flu shot, you should contact your family practitioner or visit www.tilghmanmc.com.
If you start experiencing severe flu-like symptoms, then visit your physician or an Emergency Department. Westfield Hospital is always available with minimal wait. Visit westfieldhospital.com. My children and I will all get the flu shot. Will you?
Diane Roberts-Tatum is director of marketing at Westfield Hospital in South Whitehall.