LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 2, 2009) -- Spread through sneezing, coughing and contact with infected individuals, the flu virus infects not only humans, but also pigs, birds, horses and, rarely, dogs. Sometimes, a virus can "leap" from one species to another and when this happens, a new virus can sometimes emerge from an infected human or animal.
The novel H1N1 "swine flu" strain originated at least partially in infected pigs, and scientists are fairly certain it originated in Mexico, said Dr. Chris Nelson, associate professor in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and chief of its Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. Experts say the human population has not seen a flu virus with this makeup in at least 60 years.
Symptoms of the H1N1 flu virus in people are very similar to those of seasonal flu. They include fever (generally of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. About one in four of those infected also reported diarrhea and vomiting, which is not commonly seen with the seasonal flu.
Currently, it appears that many people infected with the H1N1 virus are experiencing mild symptoms and a complete recovery often occurs without seeking medical attention. However, if symptoms are severe and/or someone has underlying medical conditions, they should seek medical attention immediately. Current UK students may contact University Health Service at 323-INFO (4636), to speak with a triage nurse or 323-APPT (2778) to make an appointment. Employees, visitors, and other non-students should contact their personal physician or go to an area urgent treatment center.
It is recommended that anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms should “self-isolate” (stay home and minimize contact with others) for the duration of the illness and for at least 24 hours after a fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicines. If possible, the university also suggests that ill students consider leaving campus to go home for the duration of their illness.
UK has been closely monitoring the H1N1 situation and making plans should there be a large amount of illness on campus. Campus officials have been meeting since late April and will continue to meet on a regular basis for the duration of the pandemic. UK’s primary action right now is to educate faculty, staff, and students on how to avoid H1N1 and stay healthy. This includes creating an H1N1 Web site with continuously updated resources, as well as distributing “cover your cough” and “wash your hands” posters throughout campus.
Plans are also in place to install hand sanitizer stations in “high-traffic” areas throughout campus and closely monitor cleaning schedules to hopefully reduce the spread of illness. In the event that the university does see an increased number of ill persons, administrators are working quickly to look at options for alternate housing and other issues related to caring for ill students on campus. UK is also planning for the possibility that large numbers of faculty and staff may be absent. This includes reviewing and updating policies related to “essential employees,” developing business continuity of operations plans and looking at alternate teaching methods.
New vaccines to protect against H1N1 are now being tested for use this fall. To ensure full protection, Nelson says, the vaccine will probably be given in two parts, a starter dose followed by a booster about 30 days later. The new H1N1 vaccine is projected to be ready sometime in late October, and health officials hope there will be ample supplies of both vaccines to provide them to anyone who wishes to receive them. However, in the event of a vaccine shortage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established a vaccination priority list of those most at risk for serious complications from influenza. It can be viewed on the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.
"The present worldwide influenza situation fulfills the World Health Organization criteria for a pandemic," Nelson said. A pandemic can start when three conditions have been met: a new influenza virus subtype emerges; it infects humans, causing serious illness; and it spreads easily and sustainably among humans, according to the WHO Web site.
Nelson's advice for prevention is to get vaccinated against both the seasonal and H1N1 flu this fall, follow common sense guidelines and stay as informed as possible. The CDC advises the following precautions:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Keep away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.
Another way to protect your health is to stay informed by visiting the following Web sites, which are frequently updated as the situation changes:
- CDC: www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu
- Kentucky Health Alerts: http://healthalerts.ky.gov