Regardless of strain, flu treatment is same

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 11, 2009

By Debbie Glover

Pontchartrain Newspapers

With absenteeism rising and prescriptions for Tamiflu and Relenza rising as well, many people are curious about the flu, flu-like symptoms and the H1N1 virus, commonly known as the swine flu.

Many protocols and suggestion are coming from several sources regarding the recent flu outbreak.

Many doctors are no longer testing for the H1N1 virus, said Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine. He said that while the fast 20-minute-long test given in doctor’s offices can be unreliable, many times the doctors were forwarding the samples to be checked by the state.

Since treatment is the same, no matter which flu the patient has, testing is no longer required unless the patient is hospitalized, said Levine. Then, the more accurate test will be administered.

Tamiflu or Relenza has been used widely in recent weeks to treat those infected and is available only with a prescription. It also must be started within a day or two of the beginning of symptoms.

Precautions against all types of influenza are the same. The Louisiana Department of Education recommends the following:

• Proper hand washing with soap and warm water is paramount. Many people do not wash their hands long enough. Recitation of the A-B-C song is usually recommended to children when washing their hands, and it can be a help to adults as well.

• Coughing or sneezing into a tissue, then discarding the tissue is recommended. If one is without a tissue, sneeze into the crook of your arm rather than your hands.

• Stay home when sick. This will help prevent the spread of the disease. Those infected should stay home at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever without the use of fever-reducing medicines.

• Areas that students and staff touch should be cleaned thoroughly on a routine basis. This would also include common areas for businesses and things like telephones, computer keyboards and desk tops.

• Early treatment is vital for those with chronic disease or at risk of complications. Visit your physician early.

The CDC has recommended that schools close only when effective teaching can no longer take place, in the event of large numbers of students developing fever during school hours, for example.

The Louisiana Medical Center and Heart Hospital’s Infection Preventionist, Donna Breaux, RN, adds that if you have the flu, you should avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way. Also, Breaux said everyone should avoid contact with those who are sick.

Breaux said that the priority for those to receive the H1N1 flu vaccine will include pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than six months old, health care and emergency medical personnel, persons between the ages of six months and 24 years of age and people 25 through 64 years old who have chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems.

Dr. Parham Jaberi, medical director for Region 9 of the DHH Office of Public Health, recommends checking with your primary healthcare provider for the availability of the flu vaccine and also checking with local pharmacies.

In addition, Winn Dixie stores will be distributing the vaccine on a walk-in basis at their pharmacies.

Jaberi said the vaccine for the H1N1 virus is expected to arrive in batches in late October or early November. Check with local health units to determine availability and cost.

Jaberi also points out every year the regular seasonal flu changes or mutates a little. The vaccination has to be specific to the most common virus that is circulating, usually three strains.

Breaux said the CDC is developing the regular seasonal vaccine as well as the H1N1 vaccine. To be fully protected, residents will need to get both vaccines when they become available.