Influenza – Why the Fuss?

Here’s a press release fresh from Hendricks Regional Health about Swine Flu. I have not edited or rewritten any of the text. I present this as is.

With Swine Flu (Human Influenza H1N1) spreading throughout the nation, many hospitals and healthcare centers have put their emergency structures in place to respond to potentially increased volumes of patients with flu-like symptoms.

So why are we seeing such a serious response to what seems like, at this time, a relatively small outbreak? What makes H1N1 different from the seasonal influenzas that circulate each winter?

Dr. John Sparzo, vice president of medical affairs at Hendricks Regional Health explains some of the concerns.

“First of all, the flu is not really something to be taken lightly. During a ‘normal’ flu season in the U.S., approximately 36,000 people will die from the flu or its complications. This surpasses the number of deaths from certain cancers and it approaches the number of people killed in auto accidents each year,” he says. “During these ‘normal’ flu seasons, many of our high-risk population have been vaccinated to decrease their risk of contracting influenza. Vaccinations significantly lower the number of deaths each year; without vaccines death rates would be even higher.”

Unfortunately now, and for the next four to six months, we will have no way to vaccinate our high-risk friends and family from H1N1 influenza and, since the virus is new, we have no natural immunities to it. Prevention and treatment are the only protection, and prevention is certainly the best strategy.

“One of the benefits to slowing the spread of the virus through prevention is it allows health care providers extra time to prepare,” says Dr. Sparzo. “It also allows resources, like medicine, to be deployed to ‘hot beds’ of illness in higher concentration rather than being spread thinly throughout the nation all at once.”

Influenza viruses morph and change easily: that’s one of the reasons there’s a new flu vaccine every year. Dr. Sparzo adds, “The more people that a specific flu virus infects, the more opportunities it has to morph into more serious strains that either are more contagious or more deadly. Decreasing the spread until a vaccine is available helps lessen this risk.”

The Swine Flu is spread through infected droplets from coughing and sneezing. Unclean hands can spread the flu quickly. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends thorough hand-washing and the following tips to keep you, and those around you, healthy:


• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.


• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.


• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth unless you have just sanitized your hands.


• Avoid close contact with an infected person.

People experiencing flu-like symptoms should see their primary care physician. Influenza testing is available at Hendricks Regional Health, but only with a physician’s order.

For up-to-date influenza information visit the CDC website at http://www.cdc.gov, Indiana State Department of Health (at http://www.in.gov/isdh) and the Hendricks County Health Department. A number of flu hotlines have also been set up to answer questions. Hendricks Regional Health’s flu hotline can be accessed by calling (317) 718-6232; Marion County’s can be accessed by calling (317) 221-3366.

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