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H1N1 Can Be a Devastating Disease.

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Nov/02/2009

As H1N1 continues to affect people in our community and across the nation, it’s disheartening to read about healthy people becoming gravely ill and dying from the flu. One recent article shared the experience of a pregnant Florida woman with the H1N1 virus who ended up in a coma, suffered collapsed lungs, a near-fatal seizure and, throughout it all, lost her pregnancy. Aubrey Opdyke and her husband Brian were from West Palm Beach. They went public because they said, “we wanted to get it out there—how dangerous it can be.” There are several important messages for residents of our community.

H1N1 is a new influenza A virus. It can cause significant illness, particularly in pregnant women and young children. The young seem to be particularly effected. Throughout Florida, pregnant women and children have ended up in the intensive care unit of their local hospital or unfortunately have died because of H1N1 infection. This illness can present with fever, cough, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat and headache amongst other symptoms. Pregnant women will frequently have vomiting and diarrhea. They are at particular risk for severe illness. Your pregnant friends and family members should be informed about the signs and symptoms of H1N1 flu. Those who present with signs and symptoms consistent with influenza should be treated prophylactically.

Both the seasonal and the H1N1 influenza vaccines are recommended, and should be given and taken, by pregnant women. The vaccines are safe for both pregnant women and for children. The number of cases of H1N1 has increased across the country and particularly in our area. Healthcare providers are well aware of this illness and the need to watch children, pregnant women and adults carefully and closely when they have these symptoms. Early viral treatment is most important to prevent the devastating complications.

There is now available an H1N1 vaccine being distributed throughout Sarasota County to doctor’s offices and hospitals. The CDC has recommended that all pregnant women and children receive both the seasonal influenza vaccine and the new H1N1 vaccine; thereby providing protection for themselves and their newborn infants. Pregnant women should be given the flu shot; they should not receive the flu nasal spray. It is important to emphasize that this vaccine is safe for children, pregnant woman and others in the high risk groups. Those who need to vaccine should receive it to prevent an illness which can be devastating. In addition, any pregnant woman who has signs and symptoms of flu-like illness should see their provider and receive when appropriate the antiviral treatment.

What should you be doing?

  • Wash your hands and your children’s
  • Avoid contact with sick people
  • Cover your sneeze and cough
  • Stay home from work or school when you are sick
  • Call or see your health provider when sick especially if you have breathing symptoms
  • Get vaccinated. It is safe!
  • Encourage those in your family to get vaccinated
  • Stay up to date with accurate information

The status of this flu epidemic is constantly evolving and changing. H1N1 can be a devastating disease. All of us should stay up-to-date and listen to those who know. Visit the websites that can give you accurate information. If you are interested in obtaining the vaccine, further information can be obtained from your healthcare provider, CDC.gov and from the Sarasota County Health Department website www.sarasotahealth.org.

Washington C. Hill, M.D., FACOG, Medical Director, Labor and Delivery
Director, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Sarasota Memorial Hospital

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