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Swine flu spreading

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    CHRIS PARKER/TIMES NEWS Dr. Clem McGinley, vice president of Medical Affairs for Blue Mountain Health System, holds a vial of seasonal flu vaccine.
Published October 05. 2009 05:00PM

The illness came on fast and furious, taking the young Lehighton man, a college freshman who just started classes, by surprise.

"I started to feel sick Thursday night, had a 103.7 fever on Friday, tried to sleep it off that night and all day Saturday but on Saturday night it was still near 103 so the (Penn State) University Health Services suggested I go to the hospital," said the man, who asked that his name not be published. "I had achiness, dizziness, runny nose, sore throat, cough, headache, and a fever."

The culprit turned out to be the H1N1 virus, commonly known as swine flu.

The 18-year-old student is among a growing number of young adults catching H1N1. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, people ranging from age 5-25 are more likely than any other age group to be hit hard by the flu. Health officials are advising young people to get the H1N1 vaccine, which is expected to become available within a few weeks, in addition to the seasonal flu vaccine, which is available now.

"H1N1 flu has caused greater disease burden on people younger than 25 years of age than older people," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, said.

Officials are also urging pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions (heart, lung or kidney disease, asthma, diabetes or immune deficiency) and health care and emergency medical workers to also get the H1N1 vaccine.

Many of those over age 60 appear to have developed immunity, perhaps because of previous exposure from earlier swine flu outbreaks.

CDC has said about 3.4 million doses of the vaccine will be available as early as tomorrow. From there, CDC has said it expects 20 million doses a week to be available through the end of the year. States will get their allocations based on population. The first form of vaccine to be released is a nasal spray called FluMist.

"We have started to place orders," said state Department of Health spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman. She anticipates getting 58,500 doses in this first round. "Because of the limited number of doses, we are targeting 5-9 year-olds in the southeast, southwest and north central parts of the state, where the disease is most prevalent," she said. "It was very difficult to determine where best to allocate the vaccine. We had to think about where we could really make an impact," she said.

That FluMist is not recommended for pregnant women or those with chronic illness factored into the decision. Children under age 10 need two doses of the medication, 21-28 days apart.

Kriedeman expects the vaccines to arrive in a week or two. The state should have 2.5 million doses available by the end of October, based on information from CDC.

Kriedeman said people should first ask their health care providers. If he or she has not applied for the vaccine, call 1- 877-PAHEALTH or go to the Department of Health's H1N1 site to find a source.

Carbon County Emergency Management coordinator Mark Nalesnik has met with school officials and gave them the state department of Health Web site for pre-registration for the H1N1 vaccine doses.

"That's just to be eligible to receive them. It doesn't guarantee they will receive them," he said.

The Lehighton Area School District and Marian High School both plan to offer the vaccines to staff and students. Lehighton Superintendent James Kraky at a Sept. 28 school board meeting said the district plans to send home permission slips that will allow students to be vaccinated at no cost to parents.

Marian High School Vice Principal Paul Coomb said, "We expect to (offer H1N1 vaccines), but right now we are looking into how to go about doing that. We have over 100 students who have signed up for the regular flu shots, to be given in a week or two."

Panther Valley Superintendent Rosemary Porembo said her district is in the process of preregistering to be able to provide the vaccine to students only.

Palmerton and Tamaqua school officials did not immediately return telephone calls.

Nalesnik recently attended a Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency seminar on the virus and plans a meeting with municipal EMAs at 6:30 p.m. today to share what he learned.

There are limited quantities of vaccines available without Thiomersol, a compound that contains mercury and is used as a preservative in vaccines. Many parents believe the substance plays a role in the development of autism.

Everyone, health officials said, should get a seasonal flu vaccine. Seasonal flu contributes to 36,000 to 40,000 deaths each year in the United States, and affects a mostly older population, said Dr. Clem McGinley, vice-president of Medical Affairs for Blue Mountain Health System.

So far, H1N1 has claimed a total of about 600 lives since the first case was reported in April.

"It's important to get both immunizations," McGinley said.

H1N1 is "pretty infectious, perhaps even a little bit more than the regular flu," he said. The virus is spread through coughing or sneezing, and by touching it on surfaces. Money, telephones, keyboards and other peoples' hands all tend to accumulate viruses, and from those cause colds to H1N1. Touching those surfaces, then touching your face, transmits the virus. The virus can live as long as eight hours on a surface, he said.

He advised people to wash their hands often or use a quarter-sized dab of alcohol-based hand gel. But be sure to wash your hands or rub for at least 20 seconds (long enough to sing two rounds of "Happy Birthday") to make sure you've done a thorough job.

But there's no guarantee. The Penn State student had taken precautions to avoid the flu.

"I took vitamins, drank vitamin C, and bought Lysol wipes and Clorox bleach," he said.

H1N1 flu symptoms tend to be dramatic, McGinley said. Frequently, you often feel good one minute, and then an hour later you have the symptoms. The symptoms include a high temperature at least 101 degrees, and in most cases, 103-104 degrees. The fever comes along with a severe headache, body aches, fatigue, runny nose, sore throat, severe congestion, nausea and vomiting.

The flu typically lasts about five days.

McGinley advises people with flu symptoms to get medical treatment quickly. Administering an antiviral such as Tamiflu or Relenza within 48 hours will prevent the most severe symptoms and avoid complications.

In addition to Tamiflu, antibiotics may be needed. The CDC on Friday reported that bacterial infections on top of the H1N1 viral infections were responsible for the deaths of otherwise healthy people.

A little more than a week after getting sick, the Lehighton man is recuperating at home. Penn State University's policy is to send students with the flu home. He said that another student from Lehighton was also sent home.

"We're not allowed to go back to class until 24 hours after our symptoms are gone," he said. "I'm feeling better now, but I think that's because of the medication. They have me on Tamiflu, Advil, Tylenol, Mucinex, and Sudafed," he said.

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