What can you do about the flu?
In a two-day package of stories, the Gazette looks at the swine flu in our area and how area organizations are responding.
Sunday: Janesville school children are learning how to cover their coughs as part of the school district's four-phase plan for responding to the swine flu. Meanwhile, UW-Whitewater and Beloit College officials prepare for the swine flu on campus. Read story
Today: Rock County Health Department officials are busy preparing for a mass flu vaccination effort.
JANESVILLE Ask any health official about swine flu preparations and you'll get an answer that includes "The CDC guidelines say..."
As local officials make plans for the spread of the swine flu, or H1N1, they're turning to the federal Centers for Disease Control for guidance and answers.
The Rock County Health Department is a regular visitor of the CDC's guidelines.
"We are living and breathing H1N1 at the health department," Health Officer Karen Cain told the Rock County Pandemic Influenza Planning and Preparedness Committee recently.
The health department is busying vaccinating people for the seasonal flu at clinics across the county as it plans for mass swine flu vaccine clinics, she said.
Officials are expecting the swine flu vaccine to arrive in mid to late October.
The health department anticipates holding mass vaccine clinics, but just for the target populations at first, Cain said.
"The health department is not going to be able to vaccine all high-risk people," she said.
The target population includes 30,000 school children in Rock County, along with thousands of health care workers, she said.
The health department will be giving the vaccine for free because it is receiving the doses for free through the state, she said. Other health organizations and clinics can charge a fee, she said.
The health department will have an alternative to shots available for people who dislike shots or have a medical condition that rules out injections. It's a mist that is shot into both nostrils.
Cain said she doesn't know when the mist will arrive, however, or how many doses will be available.
The mist is not the same vaccine as the injections, Cain said. The mist has a live virus in it, while the shots use a dead virus. Both viruses are designed to stimulate the body to produce immunity. Cain said the mist can actually trigger swine flu.
"I hate to say that because it might scare people," she said.
The mist also means the person who gets it might spread the flu to others. On the other hand, the nasal application is supposed to produce a better response than the shots.
Officials at Dean Health System and Mercy Health System said they have plans to deal with swine flu, including adjusting staffing levels to deal with outbreaks.
As the public prepares for the next round of swine flu, here are responses to some common questions.
Q: What should I do as Joe Citizen to prepare?
A: Aside from getting the vaccine, you've heard it a million times: Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.
Wash your hands early and often and long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. If you can't wash your hands, using a hand sanitizer is a good alternative, Cain said.
The only stocking up of supplies Cain suggests are enough food in the home for three to four days so that a sick person doesn't have to go out.
People can't stock up on medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza, which are both effective against H1N1, because they are prescription, Cain said. Even then, prescriptions only are recommended for people at a high risk of complications or are serious enough to be hospitalized, she said.
Hand sanitizers can be used whenever you can't wash your hands, but Cain cautions they are very drying to hands. Overuse could create cracks in skin, creating an entry point for bacteria. Hand sanitizers need to be at least 60 percent alcohol, she said.
The flu is a virus, not a bacteria, so if a product says it is antibacterial, it's not really useful against the flu, Cain said.
Q: Who will get the swine flu vaccine first?
A: The at-risk people for the swine flu are different than the seasonal flu. The target populations to receive the swine flu vaccine first are:
-- Young people ages 6 months to 24 years
-- Pregnant women
-- Health care providers and emergency medical responders
-- People ages 25 to 64 with underlying health conditions
-- Caregivers of children 6 months and younger
The health department has fielded several calls from seniors who are wondering why they're not in the high-risk category, Cain said.
When swine flu struck in spring, it mainly hit younger people while the older population avoided the virus.
"For once it pays to be over 65," Cain said with a laugh.
Once the target populations have received the vaccine, it will be given to the general public. That might not happen until early next year, Cain predicts.
Q: Where will the swine flu vaccine be available?
A: Providers who offer the seasonal flu vaccine are able to order the swine flu vaccine, Cain said.
The health department is planning vaccine clinics around the county, including hopefully in each school district, she said. Cain also is encouraging people to visit their regular health care provider for the vaccine because the health department won't be able to accommodate everyone.
Q: How do I know if I have the swine flu versus the seasonal flu?
A: You won't know for sure unless a lab confirms the virus. But unless a patient is at a high risk of complications, he or she likely won't be tested to confirm the swine flu, health officials said.
The symptoms of swine flu are similar to those of seasonal flu, including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also have reported diarrhea and vomiting, according to the CDC.
Q: What should I do if I have flu-like symptoms?
A: Stay home, and avoid contact with other people. The CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
It is expected most people will recover without needing medical care. Should you leave the house to seek medical care, the CDC recommends wearing a facemask, "if available and tolerable." Doctors offices likely will have face masks available for patients to wear when they check in.