Sickness caused by the new H1N1 influenza virus is no worse than the flu Americans experience nearly every year, and keeping that in perspective is solid guidance for the public and anyone dealing with flu, says a University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) pediatric infectious disease expert who is serving on a national flu working group.
Acting responsibly is another important message for those impacted by the virus, says Richard Whitley, MD, UAB’s director of pediatric infectious diseases and president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. Whitley is a member of the 2009-H1N1 influenza working group of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which developed a model of governmental preparations for H1N1 resurgence based on projections on the spread of the virus.
“Diligence is a key message, and using common sense is another key message,” Whitley says. “This is a serious health threat, but experts have identified the major health concerns and are taking steps to deal with it. We need to remind ourselves to stay calm, and to stay home when we feel sick because we should not transmit this infection.”
Citing the projections by government and medical-professional forecasters of how many people are expected to become infected with H1N1, Whitley says the swine flu pandemic is not expected to turn into a worst-case scenario. Government advisors and medical professionals are calling for intensified efforts to track infections and to advocate common-sense prevention measures like canceling some large public gatherings and taking requests for box-lunch distribution in schools with infected students kept at home.
“The point about staying home when you’re feeling ill is really important,” Whitley says. “We don’t want to spread this infection to co-workers or to others in our community. Our employers will have to develop different models by which they allow sick leave and time off so that adults can take care of themselves and their children.”
When people are home recuperating from flu, they should drink plenty of fluids and take fever reducers when their temperature rise, but do not give aspirin to children due to safety issues, he says. A fever that seems persistent and high – 103-104 Fahrenheit or greater – warrants a call to the doctor’s office for medical advice about antiviral drugs or other treatments.
Whitley says many hospitals are taking steps to handle an influx of flu patients by putting up infection-caution signs, distributing face masks and reminding those with non-life-threatening illness to stay home.
“Practice common sense at a hospital now more than ever,” Whitley says. “Emergency rooms will likely triage patients so that those with flu symptoms are examined in a separate area from other patients. If inpatient loads increase during the pandemic, many hospitals are well-prepared to enact changes that can address the surge.”