Letter to the Editor: H1N1 – Take it seriously

In Letters to the Editor, Opinion

As you head toward finals and the holidays, there’s an important step you should take to stay healthy: get the H1N1 flu vaccine.

This year’s flu season is the worst in many years, and young adults have been especially hard hit by the H1N1 flu.

Who is in the age group most likely to get H1N1?

People under 25.

Who gets so sick they need to be hospitalized?

Half of them are under 25.

And who is least likely to get a flu shot?

People under 25.

I am writing today to urge you to take H1N1 flu seriously, not just as the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services who has read many scientific studies saying this is a young person’s pandemic, but also as a mother of two sons who not long ago were sitting exactly where you are today.

I know it’s easy to believe that the flu is something that only the very old or the very young need to worry about, that catching the flu is no big deal.

No flu should ever be dismissed as “just the flu.” The regular, seasonal flu is responsible for 36,000 deaths every year – mainly in people over 65.

But H1N1 mainly hits the young; and even though most cases are mild, some can be quite severe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 540 children and teenagers have died from H1N1 flu since April, and we are only at the beginning of the official flu season. Some of them were perfectly healthy when they caught the flu.

So what can you do to protect yourself and people around you from the flu?

Get vaccinated. It’s the most effective way to prevent the flu. The H1N1 flu vaccine is made the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine, which has a decades-long safety track record, and it’s undergone more testing than other flu vaccines.

If you’re someone with a health condition like diabetes or asthma, the CDC says you should get vaccinated as soon as your community has vaccines available.

Other groups at high risk for serious complications include young children and pregnant women. Also, people who care for babies under 6 months, health care workers and emergency medical personnel should go to the head of the vaccination line.

In addition, many people do not realize that simply being younger than 25 also puts you in a priority group to receive the vaccine.

So look into getting vaccinated at school or when you go home for the holidays. Check out the Flu.gov flu vaccination locator to find the best place for you to go to get vaccinated quickly.

Stay home when you’re sick. If you do get the flu, there are things you should do to protect yourself and those around you.

College campuses – dormitories, classes, wherever a lot of people are indoors together – are places that any flu can spread. If you get sick, don’t go out and don’t invite visitors in.

If you live on campus but your home is not far away, consider going home until you’re well, to avoid spreading the flu. If you live too far to go home, check to see if your college has alternate housing for ill students.

Seek medical attention immediately if you have diabetes, asthma or some other medical condition and you notice flu-like symptoms.

You should also ask your health care provider about anti-viral medication. If you already have flu symptoms, antivirals have been very effective at keeping flu from getting worse.

Even if you don’t have a chronic illness, if you have symptoms, and they get worse – your fever spikes, you have difficulty breathing or you’re breathing too fast, if you have chest pain – call a doctor or other health provider right away.

Make it part of your daily routine to keep flu from spreading. The H1N1 vaccine may not have arrived in your area yet, so keep doing the simple things everyone does to keep germs in check: Wash your hands, cough and sneeze into your sleeve, not your hands, and disinfect surfaces like computer keyboards and countertops.

Go to Flu.gov and check out our self-evaluation link to help you understand if your symptoms are really serious.

There’s a flu locator for where vaccine will be in your community; tips on prevention, including videos that give you critical information you can use, even a section to help you know how to tell a flu fact from a myth on the Internet.

There are widgets, buttons, Public Service Announcements and a Facebook page, so you can spread H1N1 information – not the virus – to people you know.

In addition, we just released a new video featuring students, young people and others talking about why they chose to get vaccinated. You can also tell us why you got vaccinated by submitting your own video at YouTube.com/Group/TheFluAndYou.

No one knows whether this wave of H1N1 will get worse, taper off or be followed by another wave later in the season.

But we do know that preventing the flu depends on all of us, and everyone will be safer if each one of us is serious about preventing and reducing H1N1 flu.

– Kathleen Sebelius

Secretary of the Department of

Health and Human Services

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