Doctors, medical assistants and nurses are all preparing to deal with the increase in cases of the H1N1 flu virus that has been spreading across the nation. According to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases of the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, have increased in the United States and Canada as the peak of flu season approaches.1 So far, the hardest hit states in the U.S. have been located in the Southeastern region, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas, and the flu is expected to spread across the nation in the coming weeks. However, those states are not the only ones reporting cases of the virus. The seasonal map created by the CDC shows states like Michigan and Wisconsin have admitted more than 80 people to the hospital for H1N1 virus-related conditions.1
A new vaccine for swine flu is in development
Swine flu differs from the H5N1 virus, also known as bird flu, in that bird flu is not communicable between humans, which explains why the virus never resulted in a worldwide pandemic. Those who did die from the H5N1 virus in 2009 caught it directly from birds, not other humans.2 However, swine flu is different. The virus originally developed in pigs. The new H1N1 flu virus then mutated and spread to humans, beginning in Mexico and quickly traveling around the world to six continents.2 Humans do not produce the antibodies that fend off the virus, making it extremely contagious. However, older adults are usually more prone to catching a seasonal flu virus than swine flu. Younger people are more likely to catch H1N1 because they have never experienced an illness like it before, and do not have the immunity older people have that may protect them.2 Nurses and medical assistants are advising their patients to stay hydrated, get plenty of rest and get the H1N1 vaccine.
A new swine flu vaccine has been in development for more than six months. After just one dose, a patient will build up an immunity to the virus over the course of two weeks. Patients who are at the highest risk for the virus include: pregnant women, caregivers for children younger than 6 months old, health care and emergency medical professionals, anyone between 6 months old and 24 years old, and individuals between ages 25 and 65 who have a medical condition that increases the risk of complications.3 Medical professionals should encourage these individuals to get vaccinated.
Swine flu attacks the most vulnerable populations
According to the CDC, more than 60 percent of people hospitalized for the flu are between the ages of 18 and 64.4 In general, complications from the virus are more likely to manifest in those individuals age 65 and up, but because of varying levels of immunity, younger people are also susceptible to the infection.4 Another at-risk group in the U.S. is obese adults. According to the CDC, roughly 45 percent of hospitalizations for H1N1 flu were obese adults whose body mass index was 40 or greater.4 While additional research is needed to discover why obese people have more complications and death from the virus than other populations, compromised immune systems could play a major role. The CDC has provided data revealing that nearly 36 percent of Americans are obese.4
People who are morbidly obese, or whose body mass index is 40 percent or higher, are more likely to suffer from chronic complications that affect their immune system and make them more vulnerable to illness. Some problems obese people suffer from include heart disease (congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease), endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus), kidney or liver disorders and metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders).5
Medical providers are responsible for encouraging virus prevention
The CDC, along with health care professionals nationwide, recommend that patients get vaccinated against the flu virus. As the H1N1 virus spread across the U.S., there are expected to be several more weeks of high flu activity. The CDC is also encouraging clinicians and high-risk populations like seniors, young people and the obese to learn about the importance of rapid antiviral treatment. Influenza antiviral medications are a second line of defense against the flu. Immediate treatment can protect against serious illness and death. Antiviral drugs work best when started as soon as possible after flu-like symptoms begin (within two days), but people with high-risk conditions like chronic illnesses can benefit even when antiviral treatment is started later than recommended.5
Medical providers also recommend that their patients stay hydrated, rest, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing and wash their hands regularly, as well as stay away from anyone that may have the flu. Keeping soap and water or alcohol sanitizer available will help protect against the virus. Probiotics and prebiotics, found in garlic, onions, yogurt and supplements, help support the healthy bacteria in the body that boosts the immune system. Vitamin D and ginseng also help resist the virus.3
1 “Another pandemic? H1N1 sweeping across U.S. and Canada in deadly wave,” The Extinction Protocol.com, Jan. 4, 2014, http://theextinctionprotocol.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/another-pandemic-h1n1-sweeping-across-u-s-and-canada-in-deadly-wave/
2 “What Is Swine Flu? How Is Swine Flu Treated?,” Medical News Today.com, April 27, 2009, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/147720.php
3 “How can I prevent H1N1, or swine flu?” The Examiner.com, Sept. 17, 2009, http://www.examiner.com/article/how-can-i-prevent-h1n1-or-swine-flu
4 Bhatt, Vanisheree, “Young Adults and Obese are Vulnerable to H1N1 Flu,” Science World Report.com, Feb. 10, 2014, http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/12771/20140210/young-adults-and-obese-are-vulnerable-to-h1n1-flu.htm
5 “Flu Season Continues; Severity Indicators Rise,” Centers for Disease Prevention.gov, Jan. 17, 2014, http://www.cdc.gov/flu/news/flu-severity-rises.htm