With H1N1, flu season starts much earlier - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

With H1N1, flu season starts much earlier

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Posted: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 7:12 pm | Updated: 12:54 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

OUR VIEW: It seems far too early to be worried about the annual flu season, which traditionally has arrived in December or January in Arizona. But this year’s emergence of the H1N1 flu virus — also known as “swine flu” — apparently will prompt us to start thinking now about protecting ourselves, our families and our co-workers. At least, public health officials hope we will, as they expect the number of flu cases to start rising again at the end of August.

It seems far too early to be worried about the annual flu season, which traditionally has arrived in December or January in Arizona.

But this year’s emergence of the H1N1 flu virus — also known as “swine flu” — apparently will prompt us to start thinking now about protecting ourselves, our families and our co-workers. At least, public health officials hope we will, as they expect the number of flu cases to start rising again at the end of August.

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And with a vaccine to H1N1 not expected to be widely available until November, many of us are likely to be exposed to the virus. One out of every four Maricopa County residents could get infected this fall, a much higher rate than when this flu outbreak began in April.

The immediate concern is for school-age children, a group that seems to be unusually vulnerable to H1N1. With school now under way in most places, the close contact in classrooms naturally makes it easier for flu viruses to move from child to child and then to adults.

Public health officials aren’t planning to close schools, even if high rates of H1N1 infection are detected, Tribune reporters Hayley Ringle and Michelle Reese reported Wednesday. But officials are urging parents to focus on good hygiene with their children, and to keep them away from school if they get sick until at least 24 hours after the symptoms have gone.

On Wednesday, several federal agencies issued joint recommendations for employers as well. Businesses and government offices should encourage employees to obtain vaccines both for seasonal flu and H1N1 as soon as they are available. Employers also are being asked to send home people with flulike symptoms and offer telecommuting to workers who might be more vulnerable to deadly complications.

Finally, there’s common-sense advice for everyone: sneeze and cough into a tissue (or your elbow) instead of your hands, and wash your hands frequently anyway.

There’s no reason to panic about the return of H1N1. But be aware and do what’s best to safeguard your health.

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