While the H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) makes this year’s flu season particularly worrisome, there is good news. According to Hawaii Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo, the rate of non-fatal flu cases in Hawaii — either seasonal or H1N1 — is down from earlier this summer. But, she warns that widespread outbreaks in some Mainland states could easily spread to Hawai'i at any time.
To help prevent an outbreak, the Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) recommends that everyone get the new H1N1 vaccine as it becomes available. The seasonal flu vaccine is already available, but it is not expected to protect against the 2009 H1N1 flu. This means you may need two vaccines to protect yourself this year. Your family physician can give you the seasonal flu vaccine. People without insurance who would like a referral for free or low-cost flu shots may call 2-1-1 for a nearby clinic. This is a toll-free information and referral service, and it is available statewide Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Check out a schedule of upcoming clinics in the community.
For children, the DOH will provide voluntary seasonal flu vaccinations at schools, starting in mid-October. This School-based Vaccination Program is being implemented through a partnership between the State of Hawaii Departments of Health and Education, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools and Hawaii Catholic Schools. Through the program, all children attending Hawaii elementary and middle schools will be offered FREE seasonal flu vaccine at school, during the school day. H1N1 vaccination clinics will then be starting in mid-November to offer the vaccine free of charge for kids in grades K-8 at all participating public and private schools across the state. Learn about the Stop Flu at School Program
Over 30,000 doses of H1N1 vaccine have already been shipped to Hawaii. For now, only the most at-risk people will be eligible for the drug. The first doses are being made available to health care workers and first responders. Next in line are pregnant women, those in close contact with infants, people ages 6 months to 24 years, and those 25 to 64 years old with health conditions that could put them at higher risk for complications from influenza. See a listing of where the vaccines will be made available.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says the 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccine is as safe as seasonal flu vaccines, which have been given safely to hundreds of millions of Americans over the years. However, some health experts are not so sure. One concern is that the injections contain thimerosal, which is a mercury-based preservative that protects vaccines against potential microbial contamination. While the government says thimerosal is safe, some people have an allergic reaction to it. Only you and your health care provider can determine your risk and what the most appropriate precautions are for you.
Prevent the Spread of Illness
The N1H1 flu is contagious and it spreads mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing by infected people. In addition to getting vaccinated, here are a few recommendations to avoid getting sick and limit the spread of infection:
- Get plenty of rest and fluids, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get vaccinated yearly against seasonal flu.
- Wash your hands frequently or use alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel. These are two of the most important preventative measures you can take.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Clean hard surfaces such as doorknobs and telephones with disinfecting wipes.
- Cover your nose and mouth with the inside of your elbow or a tissue when you cough or sneeze and encourage others to do the same.
- Put used tissues immediately into the trash.
- Stay home from work if you are ill, and keep your children home from school when they are sick.
- Practice social distancing. (for example, work from home, bank on the Internet, or avoid unnecessary travel).
- Be prepared in the event that you are asked to voluntarily remain at home. Have an emergency supply kit for your home including water, food, and medications (both basic non-prescription medications like ibuprofen and prescription medications—at least a 2 week supply).
As a way to help keep people healthy and help prevent the spread of sickness, HMSA is offering every Hawaii resident one free online care visit. With their Online Care program, you can talk to local doctors any time of the day or night from the comfort and privacy of your home. For more information, go to https://hmsa.com. An all-vegetarian, natural and organic diet is especially important during flu season. A diet full of antibiotic-laden meat, synthetic pesticides in produce, and chemical-filled grocery foods is not healthy and can leave your body in a more vulnerable condition. Be sure to read this month's Health Tip for additional natural ways to boost and maintain a strong immune system.