From Geriatric Pharmacy Intern Yariagna Rollan Pharm.D(c) University of Florida School of Pharmacy
Swine flu or H1N1 is a new combination of the swine, human, and avian virus strains. It is a serious epidemic that has been spreading rapidly because there are no antibodies for this combination of strains in people. Swine flu is a form of the influenza virus that is thought to spread, as seasonal flu, through coughing, sneezing, or contact with flu infected surfaces. Symptoms include: fever, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, headache, body aches, chills and fatigue.
Thomas Yoshikawa, MD, professor of medicine at David Geffen School of Medicine (UCLA) and also editor in chief of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, reports that older adults, during their lifetime, have had more chances of contact with the various flu outbreaks. This provides the elderly with partial immunity that could offer some protection against swine flu. Unless underlying health problems are present, including compromised immune system, heart or lung disease, older adults appear to have less risk of acquiring swine flu or any other type of influenza virus.
However, seasonal influenza is still a dangerous risk for many. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that during the week of October 11-17, 2009, influenza activity continued to increase in the United States compared to previous weeks. During this period of time 8,204 hospitalizations associated to influenza and 411 deaths of confirmed influenza occurred. While some protection is possible in the elderly, they can become severely ill if infected.
Therefore, is important for the elderly population to follow the necessary precautions in order to avoid contamination. The CDC recommends covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, washing hands with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing, using alcohol-based hand gels, and avoiding contact with anyone presenting symptoms of the flu, and most importantly the use of yearly flu vaccination as a key to prevent infection.
The H1N1 vaccine only protects against the swine flu; to obtain protection against seasonal flu, you have to receive the seasonal flu vaccination as well. Both vaccines can be given at the same time if the shot is used. In the case of the nasal vaccination, wait three weeks between doses. The seasonal flu vaccine is readily available at pharmacies, family clinics, or even grocery stores. However, the availability of the H1N1 vaccine could be limited initially. The following groups have priority: health care personnel with direct patient contact, pregnant women, children 6 months through 4 years of age, children 5 through 18 years of age with chronic medical conditions, and people who live with or care for children 6 months of age or less. After immunization of the above groups, everyone else should receive H1N1 flu vaccine.