(HARRISBURG ) — Seeking to protect state residents from the H1N1 influenza strain, the state Department of Health recently held a briefing on preventative measures that can be taken by state residents, according to Senator Gene Yaw (R-23).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently predicted that the H1N1 influenza strain, more commonly known as swine flu, could infect up to 50 percent of the U.S. population and cause 30,000 to 90,000 deaths nationwide.
“As part of Pennsylvania’s preparations for this potential pandemic, some of the state’s leading authorities on disease response and prevention held an informational hearing to detail the state’s response to H1N1 and offer advice to for citizens to avoid contracting and spreading the virus,” Yaw said. “More than one million Americans contracted the H1N1 virus this spring, but the vast majority of these individuals recovered without needing serious medical attention. It is unclear if the flu strain will yield similar results or will become more deadly during this flu season, so it is important for all citizens to take the proper steps to prevent the spread of the virus in the event that it mutates into a more virulent strain.”
Yaw said much of the public does not have any background immunity to the H1N1 virus, so community mitigation steps will be important to prevent the spread of the virus.
He said the H1N1 virus spreads through the same methods as the seasonal flu, including coughing, sneezing and close contact with infected individuals. The most important steps that citizens can take to prevent the spread of the disease are covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with sick individuals and staying at home when exhibiting flu-like symptoms (except to get medical care or other necessities)..
The state Department of Health and the CDC are urging at-risk populations to get vaccinated against the H1N1 virus as soon as the vaccine is available. Clinical trials are underway for the H1N1 vaccine, and the first doses are expected to be available in mid-October.
Yaw said the vaccine will not be mandatory, but it is highly recommended for pregnant women, anyone in contact with children under 6 months of age, children from 6 months to 24 months of age, adults under age 65 with certain medical conditions (such as diabetes, asthma, heart problems or weakened immune systems) and health care workers.
He added that the Department of Health will be working with schools and health care providers to monitor the effectiveness of the vaccine, observe any changes in the makeup of the virus and identify geographic areas where the disease is most widespread. The Department will also be providing hand sanitizer and tissues to schools to mitigate the spread of the disease.
“In addition to working with schools, the Department will be helping hospitals in high-infection areas to deal with the increased patient load,” Yaw said. “The Department will be communicating the latest news on the virus directly to providers and the public. Those interested in more information can visit the Department of Health’s website at www.health.state.pa.us for the latest news on the H1N1 virus.
Contact: Adam Pankake