Normally the scourge of the very young and very old, complications from influenza are starting to attack those in between. For now, the main concern is over the H1N1 strain.
That particular strain has claimed two lives in Santa Rosa County: a 47-year-old man in Gulf Breeze and a 32-year-old woman in Pace. They normally would be exceptions to the rule but this year, H1N1 – also known as Swine Flu -- is showing up more in the young and healthy.
Dr. Susan Turner is an Associate Director at the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County. She says they received a heads-up from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late last month.
“That the predominant strain of influenza this season in the United States is that 2009 H1N1 strain,” said Turner. “And they have been getting reports from all over the United States that it is disproportionately affecting young and middle-aged adults, which is different from a regular flu strain that we’re used to seeing.”
Nationwide, flu season runs from October to March. In Florida, the peak averages sometime in February. But Turner says in reality, they never know from one year to the next what the levels will be.
Since influenza is not a reportable disease, the number of actual cases could be much greater than those who come in for treatment. Turner monitors flu activity in Escambia County through local hospitals and eight private doctors who are “sentinel physicians.” And if H-1-N-1 is hitting younger people, that includes women of child-bearing age.
“While the CDC always recommends that pregnant women get influenza vaccinations during their pregnancy, this year it’s especially critical because we have heard reports from around the state of pregnant women requiring very severe, intensive care unit treatment,” Turner said.
It takes about two weeks for the antibodies to build up in the immune system, so health officials advise those who can get a flu shot to do it sooner than later. Another reason pregnant women should be vaccinated is that the shot would provide an added benefit.
“When their baby is born, their antibodies to this influenza will pass on to baby,” said Turner. “Babies can’t get shots until six months old, so they’ll actually be protected by their mothers’ antibodies.”
Besides pregnant women and those with chronic ailments, the age group of those who should get a flu shot remains the same – basically, everyone over six months. And Turner says it’s not too late, but be sure to check for vaccine availability.
Those who should not get the vaccine without first checking with their doctor include people allergic to chicken eggs; have a severe reaction to a flu shot; and those with a history of the paralytic illness Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Shots aside, Dr. Susan Turner says the best preventive is washing those hands, coughing and sneezing into a disposable tissue or your elbow, and if you do get sick, stay home.