CONTACT: Wayne Avery, (908) 527-4742
Sebastian D’Elia, (908) 527-4419
Freeholder Board and Health Officials Urges Residents to Prepare for the Flu Season
Elizabeth—With school back in session and flu season upon us, the Union County Freeholder Board and County Office of Health Management is urging all residents to prepare themselves and their families to respond to an unpredictable flu season.
In the spring of 2009, Union County was part of the world-wide outbreak of the novel H1N1 influenza virus and experienced illnesses, as well as deaths due to the virus. Because seasonal influenza is typically unpredictable, public health officials have been closely monitoring the southern hemisphere for H1N1 flu activity and have not seen a typical decrease in activity in the off season. Therefore health officials expect to see a resurgence of seasonal as well as H1N1 influenza in the fall.
In preparation for the flu season, state, county and local health departments are closely collaborating with county and local school superintendents to reduce illness in schools countywide and limit disruption of day-to-day activities. As health officials learn more about the virus, guidelines and recommendations may change.
Over the summer months, health officers throughout Union County met on a regular basis with the County Executive Superintendent of Schools, Local Superintendent of Schools, New Jersey Department of Education and Department of Health and Senior Services to prepare plans for responding to the anticipated resurgence of H1N1 influenza in the fall. The United States Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have ordered 193 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine that is anticipated to start delivery to health care providers and local health departments in mid-October.
“Our planning has taken into consideration a number of scenarios that county and local public health officers need to consider in our response,” said Union County Freeholder Rick Proctor. “The vaccine is being manufactured by two manufacturers in the United States, and presently clinical trials are being performed in order to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine. When the vaccine becomes available, it will be distributed to physicians, hospitals and local health departments to provide to their patients and /or clients. Here in Union County we are focusing on H1N1 vaccinations in the school setting, as school age children are considered the most vulnerable target population.”
While the flu can resemble a cold, the flu has more severe symptoms: fever, achy joints, sore throat, chills, congestion, a headache and cough. People who have contracted the H1N1 influenza virus have also reported nausea and diarrhea. Certain groups may be more likely to develop a severe illness from flu infection, such as persons with chronic medical conditions.
Even if left untreated, most influenza infections will go away within 1 or 2 weeks, although a cough and fatigue may persist for a little longer. Seek medical attention with a family physician if symptoms persist or get worse. Only visit an emergency room if severe symptoms develop such as difficulty breathing or chest pains, purple or blue discoloration of the lips, or signs of dehydration such as dizziness when standing, absence of urination or in infants if there is lack of tears when they cry. People who go to the emergency room for mild symptoms pose the risk of exposing themselves to other more serious illnesses.
Residents who do come down with influenza-like illnesses are advised to stay home to prevent the spread of illness to others and to give their bodies time to recover. Adults and children should stay at home until they are fever-free for 24 hours (without the help of fever-reducing drugs).
Families should take time to plan for possible emergencies due to a flu illness in their home or family. Creating a family emergency plan and flu home-care kit can help provide safer care at home for sick persons and prevent the spread of the virus.
Family Emergency Plan
Create a family plan to handle last-minute decisions.
Family Illness. Children, as well as adults should stay home if they are sick. When calling schools to report an absence, please specify the symptoms. This will help school and health officials to monitor the level of influenza activity in the community. Any child determined to be sick while at school will be sent home.
School closures. If both parents work, decide who will take care of children if schools close due to a flu outbreak. Make sure that your children and their schools have your latest contact information and most current phone numbers.
Important Phone Numbers. Keep a list of phone numbers for physicians, pharmacies, and potential caregivers for young children easily accessible.
Isolate. If a member of your household becomes ill, designate an area where the person can rest and not expose the rest of the family.
Keeping extra-supplies at home can ease recovery and reduce stress. A flu home-care kit should contain:
Thermometer. Symptoms of the flu include fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit, 37.8 degrees Celsius or greater).
Facial tissues. Influenza is a respiratory illness that is spread by inhaling infected droplets from a person who has the virus. Therefore, it’s important to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve if you do not have a tissue
Soap. Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water is the best way to prevent the flu. Wash our hands for 15 to 20 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a good alternative if soap and water are not available.
Ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Ibuprofen-based fever reducers can lower a temperature for up to six hours and ease muscle and joint aches. Acetaminophen lowers fever for up to four hours. Use caution when mixing over-the-counter drugs and be sure to use age appropriate doses for children and infants.
Decongestant. Heavy congestion is a major symptom of the flu. An over-the-counter product containing pseudoephedrine can provide relief for adults.
Fluids. It’s important to be careful about dehydration, especially with children. Include extra water or electrolyte containing fluids such as Gatorade or Pedialyte in your kit.
Antivirals. There are four antiviral prescription medicines approved to prevent or treat influenza: amantadine (Symmetrel), rimantadine (Flumadine), zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu). They need to be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms, so it’s important to call the doctor as soon as you start to feel sick. They won’t cure the flu, but can help get you back on your feet a day earlier.
“With the family emergency plan in place, and the home care kit available, families will be able to deal effective with the illness without exposing people outside their homes,” said Proctor. “Containing the flu is our goal, and taking the proper steps at home will go a long way toward that goal.”
The Office of health Management also encourages everyone to get a seasonal influenza shot this year as it becomes available. There are a number of places you can go to get the shots. Governor Jon Corzine announced earlier this week the state will offer free swine flu shots to the state’s 1.3 million uninsured. Corzine said the vaccine will be covered by health insurers for those who are insured. And beginning September 1st seasonal flu shots will be available daily at CVS Caremark locations throughout the country. Shots will be available free of charge to the unemployed. Beginning September 15th more than 9,000 flu shot clinic events will be held in select CVS/Pharmacy stores nationwide. Vaccinations are covered by most insurance plans. Consumers can call 1-888-FLU-SHOT or go to www.cvs.com to find a list of vaccination locations.
The best prevention and protection is to say informed of the latest guidelines, updates and recommendations from public health officials. Contact the Union County office of Health Management at (908) 518-5620 or visit www.ucnj.org/lincs, www.cdc.gov, and www.nj.gov/health for more information.