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Health department schedules H1N1 vaccine clinic

Everyone knows something about the 2009 Novel H1N1 (Swine flu) pandemic, but some days it can be hard to make sense of it all.

H1N1 is usually a mild flu, although some people become severely ill and require hospitalization. Some tragically die.

Seasonal flu kills about 36,000 people in this country every year, and only around 600 have died from H1N1 in the U.S., so should we be concerned?

Seasonal flu tends to have the worst effect on the elderly, but H1N1 strikes pregnant women, infants and young children at an unusually high rate. We expect that some people will get the seasonal flu every year, but H1N1 flu is predicted to affect as many as 50 percent of our population in the upcoming year. Since H1N1 is a “new” virus, most of us simply have no immunity.

We can improve our protection from seasonal flu with a flu shot, but when can folks get an H1N1 shot?

It’s no wonder there are questions, and some people are confused!

Minor illness, or major concern? Can I protect myself and my family, or is getting this flu almost inevitable? Will there be a vaccine in time to help, and is vaccine developed this quickly really safe?

First, the H1N1 vaccine is safe. It’s made the same way seasonal flu vaccine is made, which normally changes every year. H1N1 just happens to be a virus that wasn’t predicted when manufacture of the seasonal flu vaccine began, so it was made separately.

While H1N1 is definitely an evolving situation, with new and changing information about when the vaccine will arrive, here’s what those of us in the public health community know right now: H1N1 flu is here. The first shipment of vaccine targeted at health care workers just arrived. The rest of the vaccine will be rolled out over the next several months and many of us might not be able to get a shot until late November. However, you can prevent getting the flu by taking simple precautions — covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or crook of your elbow, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer often, keeping your hands away from your face, and staying home if sick until 24 hours after your temperature is below 100 degrees.

San Juan Basin Health has been working with community members and partners to both prevent flu outbreaks now and to administer the vaccine when it arrives. We will have community clinics in various locations, as well as in-school clinics in Archuleta County and late afternoon-early evening clinics at the health department in Pagosa Springs. The vaccine will be available as a nasal mist and as an injection. While we advise people to get the vaccine, it is completely voluntary.

An afternoon walk-in clinic for H1N1 vaccine will take place from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 27, at the San Juan health Department office at 502 S. 8th St. The clinic is for those who fall in the Tier 1 category. The category includes:

• Children 6 months to 4 years of age.

• Health care personnel with direct access to patients.

• Caregivers of children under the age of 6 months.

• Pregnant women.

• EMS personnel.

• Children 6 months to 25 years with high-risk conditions.

The vaccine is free, and is not mandatory.

As more vaccine becomes available we will target children 6 months of age through age 4 years and older children with underlying health conditions.

We hope to begin in-school clinics by early November for school aged children through age 24 and adults with chronic health problems. By December, there should be enough vaccine for anyone who wants it as the government has purchased 250 million doses.

Finally, Tamiflu, which is a prescribed medication that may prevent or decrease the severity of flu in those who are exposed, will be prescribed only to those who experience severe symptoms or are at risk for serious complications.

For updates on flu clinic dates and locations, visit our Web site at www.sjbhd.org and click on the H1N1 Resources and Updates button.

Remember: Only you can prevent the flu.