Common-sense precautions for H1N1

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Doctors and hospitals nationwide expect a surge in H1N1 influenza cases during the upcoming flu season. In a new video and the tips below, Yvonne Maldonado, MD, chief of infectious disease at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, explains what every parent should know about H1N1 flu as children head back to school.

Common-sense precautions: "Parents should monitor their children for flu-like illness: fever, cough, sore throat, and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting," said Maldonado. Anyone with flu symptoms should stay home from school and work, she said, adding schools will be extra-vigilant in the coming months about sending home children who appear to be ill. Kids also should practice hand-washing and other health basics to avoid spreading germs. "Parents need to make sure that children know how to protect others by not coughing or sneezing around others, or by covering their coughing or sneezing," Maldonado said.

When to call your doctor: So far, most cases of H1N1 have been about as mild as ordinary influenza, Maldonado said. Patients with mild symptoms can often be treated at home with rest and fluids, and may not need to see a doctor. "But parents should be in touch with their health-care provider if they have any concerns – for instance, in a younger child with a fever," she added. A call to the doctor can help parents monitor specific symptoms and decide when they need to bring a child in for special evaluation.

Two flu vaccines: First, all children should receive the vaccine for ordinary circulating influenza this fall, Maldonado said, although this won't protect against H1N1 flu. Kids who have never been vaccinated for flu may require more than one dose of this vaccine. Second, an H1N1-specific vaccine is now undergoing clinical trials, and will tentatively be available in late fall or early winter. If an H1N1 vaccine is released, pregnant women will be first in line to receive it. Small children and their caregivers will be the next priority, with older children vaccinated after that.

Special advice for pregnant women: "Pregnant women should be especially careful to avoid being exposed to the influenza virus," Maldonado said, noting this population has been hard-hit by H1N1. Pregnant women who develop flu symptoms such as cough, fever, or sore throat should call their health-care provider right away for advice. And, if an H1N1 vaccine becomes available, pregnant women should be vaccinated.

Pandemic preparedness – at Packard Children's and around the country: Up-to-date information on H1N1 flu and ordinary seasonal flu is regularly funneled from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to state and county health officials, who share news and plans with hospitals and physicians. Packard Children's got a good opportunity to test its pandemic preparedness plan when H1N1 flu was discovered in California in April, Maldonado said, "and I think we are fairly well prepared at this point for most situations." County health departments and Packard Children's will continue to inform the local community about H1N1 flu through its Web sites throughout the fall.

Reporters looking for expert sources on H1N1 influenza can request interviews with Maldonado and with Sharon Williams, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. Williams can provide advice on how parents should talk to their kids about H1N1 flu.

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