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Our View: Common sense approaches to H1N1

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As fall approaches and school has started, there are plenty of new concerns over the potential for the H1N1 flu virus (sometimes referred to as swine flu).

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The flu entered the scene last spring and there was plenty of hype surrounding the expected outbreak. Fortunately, the flu fizzled in the eyes of most. But it was always there behind the scenes and some warned that it may come back stronger this fall. Autumn is here, and so are the new warnings and confirmed cases of the flu.

Last week 4-H members were sent home from the Minnesota State Fair when several were determined to have the H1N1 virus and many others showed flu-like symptoms.

With school in session, of course, there are concerns that a virus could spread rapidly as young people are in close contact every day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continue to report higher than normal levels of flu-like illness and actual H1N1 outbreaks in some parts of the country. That's very unusual at this time of year.

CDC estimates that so far there have been more than 1 million cases of H1N1 in the United States. Similar to seasonal flu, with H1N1 you'll get a fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, achiness, headache, chills and fatigue. Sometimes H1N1 causes diarrhea and vomiting. Just like seasonal flu, it can be severe and potentially deadly.

In seasonal flu, certain people are at high risk of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. About 70 percent of people who have been hospitalized with this 2009 H1N1 virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as high risk flu-related complications. These high-risk people are pregnant women and people with diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.

So far, H1N1 has been most contagious among children and young adults age 6 months to 24 years.

But if you're a parent, you need to add one more item to that back-to-school checklist: What you will do if someone in your family gets the flu.

Some of these precautions are simple and personal. Make it a routine to wash your hands often with soap and water. Cough into your elbow or into a tissue, not in your hands.

Stay home if you're sick, and start planning now in the event that one of your kids gets the flu. And ask yourself these questions: If you work, have you made arrangements for child care? Have you talked with your employer about what to do in case you need to be out?

At the national level, scientists at the National Institutes of Health, the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration are working with vaccine manufacturers to make sure that an H1N1 vaccine is not only safe, but that the virus is not changing in ways that would reduce a vaccine's impact. They expect to have a vaccine ready this fall.

For more information, go to http://pandemic.wisconsin.gov/ or http://www.cdc.gov/. These sites provide guidance to prepare for, prevent and respond to an outbreak. It includes checklists and fact sheets that will help families and others make sure they are prepared. St. Croix County-Public Health immunization clinics will be posted on the flu section of www.co.saint-croix.wi.us/flu

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