Raleigh, N.C. — Public health officials with WakeMed Raleigh held "Flu 101" Monday evening to help educate the public about prevention, steps to take if you become sick and vaccine guidelines.
Anne Hill, who has two children, attended the question-and-answer session at Ravenscroft School on Falls of Neuse Road.
"It is diligent to be as educated as you can be,” Hill said.
Hill says she is concerned over the spread of H1N1 virus, also referred to sometimes as swine flu, in schools. Some physician offices have been swamped with children in recent weeks, as parents worry that their children are experiencing H1N1 symptoms.
“Our volume of patients coming to the hospital, to the emergency department for treatment has really escalated,” said Robin Carver, WakeMed's director of infection control.
More than 2,200 people came down with flu-like symptoms across the state this month. Flu cases typically dwindle during the summer but not this year.
"The flu stayed during the summer. Usually we expect the virus to go away,” Wake County Human Services Medical Director Peter J. Morris said.
The H1N1 flu strain, which was first identified in April, is expected to have a strong resurgence this fall and winter flu season.
Officials are urging people to be especially watchful for flu-like symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and vomiting. If you have these symptoms, stay home from work and school and avoid contact with others.
Morris said the best way for people to protect themselves is to get vaccinated for both flu strains. They also advise basic hygiene practices – for example, often washing hands with soap and water and covering noses and mouths when sneezing or coughing.
First H1N1 vaccines may be nasal spray
The nation's first round of a vaccine – in the form of a nasal spray – to counter the virus should be distributed by the first week of October, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Federal guidelines call for the new vaccine to be given first to pregnant women, those who live with or care for children 6 months or younger, health care workers, people aged 6 months through 24 years, and people with chronic health problems or compromised immune systems.
Those groups total about 159 million people nationwide.
Because the nasal vaccine is made with a live form of the virus, some high-risk groups might not be able to take it, according to Jay Butler, head of the CDC's H1N1 Vaccine Task Force.
The CDC is still waiting for the injectable vaccine to become available and believes it will have doses sometime next month.
Only after shots are offered to those high-risk groups will the vaccine be available to healthy adults 64 and younger.
After that, if the vaccine is still available, seniors ages 65 and older would be eligible. Some researchers say the elderly have a partial immunity to the H1N1 virus because of exposure to similar viruses in their lifetimes.
The H1N1 flu strain is now responsible for almost all flu cases in the United States. It has caused more than 1 million illnesses so far, though most were mild and not reported.
Nearly 600 Americans have died from it, including 11 deaths in the state, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.