Parents should watch out for flu warning signs, says Minnesota physicians

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Minnesota's physicians are urging parents to watch for the warning signs that their child is having a severe case of H1N1 and to seek out the H1N1 vaccine for their child when it becomes available.

There is increased awareness of the H1N1 virus in Minnesota this week because of a recent report that an otherwise healthy 6-year-old child died from the virus (the seventh reported death in the state) and the news that Minnesota has started receiving shipments of the H1N1 vaccine.

Most patients with H1N1 have a mild illness, but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children younger than 5 (especially children younger than 2 years old), pregnant women, and patients with chronic conditions, should talk to a health care provider about whether they need to be examined if they get flu symptoms this season.

The emergency warning signs, according to the CDC, for children include

  • fast breathing or trouble breathing,
  • bluish skin color,
  • not drinking enough fluids,
  • not waking up or not interacting,
  • being so irritable that the child does not want to be held,
  • flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough, and
  • fever with a rash

Children are also a priority group for receiving the H1N1 vaccine.

Linda Van Etta, M.D., FACP, an infectious disease consultant and epidemiologist for St. Lukes Hospital in Duluth and an active member of the Minnesota Medical Association, said parents should be on the lookout for information from their pediatrician or from their child's school about opportunities to receive the vaccine.

However, it is not clear when the vaccine will be widely available, even though Minnesota started receiving it this week. The Minnesota Department of Health plans to distribute the vaccine based on a protocol that calls for health care workers, emergency responders, pregnant woman, children between 6 and 24 months old, and people under 65 with certain chronic conditions to receive the vaccine first.

"If you are in one of these groups, consult with your physician about whether you are eligible for an early dose, but also know you might have to be patient, since the vaccine is not going to be available right away for everyone," Van Etta said.

The average adult Minnesotan will likely have to wait several weeks to receive an H1N1 vaccine.

In the meantime, Van Etta advises, "keep washing your hands, use good coughing etiquette by using a tissue or coughing into your sleeve, try to eat right and get enough sleep, stay away from sick people, stay home if you are sick, and try to keep your hands away from your eyes and mouth."

Patients are also advised to get a seasonal flu vaccine. The Minnesota Department of Health has a "Find a Flu Shot" Website for seasonal flu vaccines (http://www.health.state.mn.us/cgi-bin/idepc/fluschedule/fluclinic_search.cgi)

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