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March 10, 2010 > It's Not Too Late to Vaccinate Against H1N1

It's Not Too Late to Vaccinate Against H1N1

Washington Hospital Doctor Urges People to Stay Vigilant

It's not too late to get vaccinated against the H1N1 influenza virus. The novel strain of influenza, also called the swine flu, has caused serious illness and death since it emerged last spring.

"It's still very important to get vaccinated and protect yourself," said Dr. Dianne Martin, who specializes in infectious diseases at Washington Hospital. "It's not worth taking a chance."

The H1N1 vaccine is available free of charge at the Washington Urgent Care Clinic from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. It is also available through the Washington On Wheels Mobile Health Clinic. In addition, a number of retail pharmacies are offering H1N1 flu vaccinations.

"Right now there is a lull in cases, but it's hard to predict what will happen," Martin said. "We are watching and waiting to see what will happen in the next couple of months."

The 2009 H1N1 flu virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009. In June 2009, the World Health Organization declared H1N1 a pandemic because it was spreading worldwide.

Historically, outbreaks caused by pandemic flu viruses come in waves, according to Martin. The first wave was in the spring and early summer of 2009 and the second wave was in the fall. "We don't know if we'll see a third wave of illness or not," she said.


H1N1 Spreads Like Seasonal Flu

The H1N1 virus spreads from person to person the same way seasonal flu does, according to Martin. When someone who is sick with the flu talks, coughs or sneezes, flu viruses are expelled into the air and someone nearby breathes them in. The viruses can also get on surfaces like door handles and counter tops.

"You can get the viruses on your hands when you touch those surfaces," she said. "That's why it's so important to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also good, and you can keep them in your purse or glove compartment."

To avoid spreading the flu, she said it's important to stay home when you or your children are sick. Martin also recommended coughing into a tissue or your sleeve instead of your hand.

"It's a good idea to have an emergency kit at home in case you get sick that includes Tylenol, cold medicines, and Gatorade," she said. "That way you don't have to go to the store and infect other people."


Pregnant Women and Children at Risk

While the symptoms of H1N1 flu are similar to the seasonal flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, it has hit pregnant women and children harder than the seasonal flu, according to Martin. She said the seasonal flu tends to cause severe illness and deaths mainly in the frail and elderly, but the H1N1 flu has caused serious illness and deaths in pregnant women and children.

"We really want pregnant women and children to get their H1N1 flu vaccination," Martin said. "Children under 10 need two shots to be fully protected."

Last fall, when the H1N1 vaccine was in short supply, it was only recommended for those at high risk, including pregnant women, children and people with certain medical conditions. Healthy adults were asked to wait until more vaccine was available. That time is now. The vaccine is safe and effective for everyone over the age of 6 months old, except for those who are allergic to eggs.

"I would encourage everyone to get vaccinated against H1N1," Martin said. "Having more people vaccinated could also help us avoid a third wave of disease."

For more information about the flu, visit www.flu.gov.

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