Wicker Says Simple Steps Can Protect Children From Swine Flu

With Kids Back in School, Senator Says Prevention is Best Method of Protection

August 24, 2009

School bells are ringing once again across Mississippi.  Now that children are back in the classroom, many parents have expressed increased anxiety over the H1N1 virus, more commonly referred to as the swine flu. 
The H1N1 virus is present in Mississippi, but there is no reason to panic.  The federal government has been working with state and local governments, as well as schools across the country, to provide resources and guidance to help limit the spread of the virus. 
                                    H1NI VIRUS EXPLAINED
The H1N1 virus is a new influenza virus causing illness in people around the world.  First detected in the U.S. in April of this year, the virus is transmitted from person to person like the yearly seasonal flu.  Much like the seasonal flu, symptoms of the H1N1 flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most people who have become ill with this new virus have recovered without requiring medical treatment.         
One of the reasons many parents have increased anxiety about the virus is because unlike the seasonal flu, the H1N1 virus appears to be causing a greater burden in younger people.  However, this is not because H1N1 specifically targets children and young adults.  According to the CDC, people older than 60 – those typically affected worst by the flu – appear to have more immunity to the virus.  It is believed this may be a result of previous exposure to H1N1 viruses that spread between 1918 and 1957. 

According to the Mississippi State Department of Health, 413 cases of H1N1 flu were identified in the state between May 15 and August 18.  The virus has been blamed for a number of fatalities, including the death of a 7-year old Jackson County child who state officials said had multiple underlying health conditions.  Even so, H1N1 is not thought to be any more severe than the seasonal flu experienced by millions of Americans each year.  Officials have said that the death rate from the H1N1 virus is about the same as with the seasonal flu, and that there is currently no need for additional alarm. 

Mississippi State Department of Health epidemiologist Mary Currier told the Clarion Ledger last month that initial fears were the new flu strain could be severe.  However, she added, “As the CDC gathered epidemiology data, it became clear that this virus is just about what the regular seasonal variety is.” 

                                 PROTECTING YOUR CHILDREN
As is the case with the seasonal flu, public health officials say a vaccine is the best way to prevent coming down with the H1N1 virus.  However, this vaccine is still being produced and is not expected to be available until October.  In the meantime, experts say the recommended course of action to protect yourself from the virus is to take simple precautions and to teach your children to do the same. 

These steps include: covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze; washing hands often with soap or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and keeping surfaces like bathroom and kitchen counters clean, as well as toys for children. 

                                NEW SCHOOL GUIDANCE
In order to prevent the spread of the virus between children, CDC earlier this month released guidance for schools.  The biggest change in their recommendation is in regard to school closures.  After advising schools with sick children to close last spring, the CDC is now advising schools to stay open.  However, CDC officials state it is critical for sick children to be sent home immediately, and that parents should keep sick children home from school for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever. 

Like the seasonal flu, the H1N1 flu is unpredictable.  It is a threat that should not be ignored, but by taking extra care to follow precautionary measures you can greatly increase the chances of you and your children staying flu-free this year.  Those wanting more information on the H1N1 flu can call the CDC’s flu hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (232-4636).  Information from various government agencies can also be found at
www.flu.gov, including prevention tips and fact sheets.