H1N1 flu (also called the swine flu) first surfaced in April. Many schools and colleges around the state are reporting students confirmed or suspected of having the H1N1 virus. Nearly every county in South Carolina has reported at least one case of the new strain of flu.In late August, a 12-year-old Midlands-area child with serious underlying medical issues died after coming down with novel H1N1 flu. However, in the majority of reported cases, the severity of the illness has been mild.
DHEC Spokesman, Adam Myrick tells us that the flu is tracking about the same here as around the country. “It’s important to remember that no matter what kind or which letters and numbers you put in front of it, the flu is still the flu. And thus far the symptoms and the length of the illness have been tracking here in South Carolina about the same as they’ve been tracking around the country. In fact, H1N1 has been a little bit shorter time than the seasonal flu. Where as typically with the seasonal, you’re going to be sick, you might as well take yourself out of circulation for about five to seven days. H1N1, most of the cases that we’re hearing about here in South Carolina, have been around 3-4 days.”
Myrick tells us that it may be late October or early November before the flu vaccine becomes available to residents in our state. “We do know that the vaccines are the most powerful public health tool to control the spread or at least slow down the spread of this virus. We are working with all of our partners to get those plans nailed down. We expect the vaccine to be in sometime later next month, perhaps very early November.”
Myrick reminds us that frequent hand washing is among one of the best ways of preventing spread of the virus. “Wash your hands frequently. If you don’t have soap and water… those gels work well. Also, cough into your tissue or your sleeve. it’s very important it’s not the hand, because the hand will hold those germs and then pass on to the person you shake hands with, then leaving them on a door knob or a salt shaker in a restaurant.”
Also, another way to prevent the spread of germs is to stay home when you’re not well. “If you feel sick, stay home from work. As school is now back in, parents, we need you to be mindful and understand that if your child has some of those classic flu symptoms, and has a fever, they need to stay home from school. That’s going to be big in slowing down the spread of this.”
Myrick said not everyone needs to see a doctor when symptoms occur. He says that a lot of H1N1 patients are just riding it out. Although sufferers are going to feel miserable for three to four days, in most cases, there are no complications and everyone will pretty much be back up to speed in under a week.
“We know that there are some people with underlying health conditions, long term health problems, that may need to go seek some medical attention. And there are some cases where you will need to go do that. Most people are not going to the doctor. Most people are not going in and being tested. They’re just riding it out at home.”
The seasonal flu vaccine is now available at doctor’s offices, pharmacies, and will soon be in county public health department. However, the seasonal flu vaccine will not protect us against the H1N1… and vice versa. “The H1N1 flu vaccine–when that gets here, in November, October–it’s not going to protect them against the seasonal flu. So it’s going to be crucial for people to get both shots. Right now, we don’t know how many injections that will be for H1N1. There’s some talk that it may be two [and] some talk that it may be one. Either way –multiple injections for complete coverage to protect yourself against the flu this year.”