KLAWOCK - The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Alicia Roberts Medical Center in Klawock over the past two weeks has had several laboratory-confirmed cases of novel H1N1 (swine) flu, including one that required hospitalization. These cases should serve a reminder that the novel H1N1 flu still is active in Southeast Alaska. SEARHC also has confirmed recent cases in Juneau, Haines, Kake and Hydaburg.
Laboratory-confirmed cases of H1N1 (swine) flu only give a partial picture of the flu's impact in our communities. In late July, the State of Alaska Section of Epidemiology and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cut back on laboratory testing to just those flu cases that required hospitalization or led to death. The State Division of Public Health now assumes that 95 percent of all flu is H1N1, so all patients with flu symptoms are being treated as if they have H1N1. SEARHC remains in regular contact with state and federal health officials to keep updated on the current situation.
The CDC now recommends anybody with influenza-like symptoms should remain at home and stay away from others until they have gone at least 24 hours where they have been free of a fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) or signs of a fever without using fever-reducing medications. The new CDC recommendation means people with flu-like symptoms should stay away from camps, schools, day cares, businesses, mass gatherings and other community settings where people gather. To learn more about the new CDC guidelines, go to www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance/exclusion.htm.
Patients with basic flu symptoms do not need to see a health care provider unless they develop serious flu symptoms or they belong to a high-risk group for serious complications. Basic flu symptoms are a fever higher than 100 degrees and some or all of the following: headache, tiredness, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, diarrhea and/or vomiting. Patients with basic flu symptoms should stay home so they avoid spreading the flu to others. To learn how to take care of a sick person in your home, go to this CDC page, www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance_homecare.htm.
People with serious flu symptoms or those with a high risk for serious complications (pregnant women, people with chronic disease, young children, elders, etc.) should call their local clinic before heading into the clinic to be checked out. You will be given a mask to wear during your entire clinic visit so that we can limit the spread of germs and protect our other patients and employees. Feel free to call your local SEARHC clinic if you aren't sure if you have basic or serious flu symptoms, so you don't know if you should stay home or go to the clinic.
Here are some additional ways you can help prevent the spread of airborne diseases such as the flu. Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available (for at least 15 seconds for both, or long enough to sing the ABC song). Use a tissue to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and promptly throw away the tissue after you're through using it. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow instead of your hands. After coughing or sneezing, wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer. Use sanitary wipes to clean surfaces where germs gather, such as computer keyboards, telephones, light switches, door handles and stairway banisters.
Updated information on the novel H1N1 (swine) flu can be found at www.pandemicflu.alaska.gov (state Web site), or at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/ (national Web site). The SEARHC Web site, www.searhc.org/h1n1/, also has information about the flu and how to prevent its spread.