Symptoms and treatment for novel H1N1

Friday, September 25, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Have questions about how to deal with novel H1N1, previously known as “swine flu?"

In response to the avian flu scare last year, Dr. Michael Cooperstock, the chief of pediatric infectious disease, immunology and rheumatology at the Children’s Hospital, and MU launched a Web site called “Ask Dr. C” to explain the risks of this particular flu strain and what the university would do in case of a pandemic.

Cooperstock holds a master's of public health and a doctorate in medicine from the University of Michigan. He agreed to answer some basic questions about novel H1N1, which he said is a much milder strain of influenza than avian flu. Here are highlights from that conversation:

Q: What are the symptoms of novel H1N1?

A: Symptoms are very similar compared to other respiratory diseases: sore throat, sneezing, low-grade fever. The flu tends to have a more sudden onset, a slightly higher fever of 102 degrees or more, a headache and, most identifiably, muscle aches. It also makes people want to stay in bed. Symptoms of novel H1N1 do not differ from regular flu symptoms.

Q: What are the treatments?

A: People with the flu should stay hydrated and rest, and stay out of contact with others. You may also take over-the-counter medications to treat symptoms.

There is an antiviral for those who are particularly sick. There is Tamiflu and Relenza, which is a medicine you breathe in similar to an asthma inhaler.

If a person is ill, he or she should stay home and not go back (to work or school) until he or she has been free of fever for a whole day.

Q: How can you tell if it’s serious?

A: If you’re feeling particularly sick, with a high fever or labored breathing, you should seek medical attention. You should also check the CDC’s Web site on novel H1N1 for their advice on when to seek medical attention.

Q: How can I protect myself from getting sick/how can I help keep it from spreading?

A: Use good hand hygiene — wash your hands often and/or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Cough into your sleeve or into a tissue that then goes into the wastebasket. If someone you know has an active cough, keep your distance. The virus tends to be most transmissible to people within 3 to 6 feet.

Q: Who is most at risk?

A: It’s generally the same list as with ordinary seasonal flu, with one exception. As always, those with chronic medical illnesses, those under age 5, under age 2 and particularly under 6 months are most easily affected. Also, people who care for people in those risk categories should be immunized to minimize the risk of giving the disease to those in their care.

One unique thing we’ve noticed (about this flu) from the pandemic in the summertime is that older people don’t seem to be as affected by this strain. People born before 1944 or so somehow ended up with more immunity — for them, rates are at about one-tenth that of an ordinary flu season.

Q: Will there be a vaccine?

A: There will be a seasonal flu vaccine and a new vaccine for the novel H1N1. The seasonal flu vaccine (was) made available on Sept. 21 for all clinics and patients. Children under 9 who have never had the flu should receive two doses of the vaccine, about a month apart.

In contrast, the new vaccine for the novel H1N1 is not yet available ... You should get both kinds of vaccine.

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