Flu season is inching closer and the swine flu will return, David Fletcher, director of Gila County’s Health Department told county supervisors recently.
“Nobody knows if it’s going to come back like a lion and cause real problems or if it’s going to come back like a lamb,” he said. But, “it will be coming back as surely as I am standing here today.”
Residents can take precautions to protect themselves.
Washing hands is imperative, and also more effective against the flu than wearing a mask, Fletcher said when asked to choose the more effective option.
In addition to getting a traditional flu shot, people can receive one for the swine flu, otherwise known as the H1N1 virus. However, the swine flu vaccine will not be available until late November or early December.
Every year, 36,000 people die from the traditional flu. Since the swine flu is no more deadly, Fletcher said to stay home, rest and drink copious fluids after developing flu like symptoms.
It doesn’t matter whether people have the swine flu or the regular flu, he said. “If you’re sick, stay home.”
That means no Walmart, no movies, no work or school, he said. “Don’t go out and expose other people.”
However, if a person begins to have trouble breathing, he should seek medical attention. Otherwise, Fletcher said drugs are no more efficient than rest and fluids when recovering.
Of the 94,500 swine flu cases worldwide since the outbreak’s start in April, 34,000 of them hit the United States, as of early July. Fletcher said two cases have been confirmed in Gila County. Mexico has counted 10,000 cases, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Fletcher said nobody knows how fierce the virus will be after returning.
WHO raised the pandemic level to 6, the highest, in June. Level 6 signifies widespread human infection. However, the organization also considers the disease moderately severe because most people recover without hospitalization, and levels are similar to those during the regular flu season, according to its Web site.
Fletcher said health department officials will travel to local schools to present information about protection. Handouts and other public information will also be available.
At the state level, Gov. Jan Brewer applied for $7 million in federal grants to fight the swine flu — $5.2 million of it intended for vaccine distribution and lab operations. The remainder would help protect healthcare workers and create a swine flu education campaign. The federal government is spending $350 million in grants for the virus.
Most flu is spread through the hands, Fletcher said. People should wash their hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds, or sing the ABC song, which roughly equals that time frame.
Fletcher recommended buying supplies for potential hibernation now while stores have them in stock. So-called “social distancing” may become necessary after contracting the flu. He suggested businesses ready for a potential loss of productivity. Parents may become sick, or have to stay home with school-age children.
Differences exist between a flu and a cold. A fever accompanies the flu, where colds generally feature normal temperatures but increased “nasal discharge,” said Fletcher.