Since the H1N1 influenza virus spread to the U.S. in April, health experts have recognized a curious trend: Older adults are less affected by the virus than young people. According to recent health reports, most cases of H1N1 infections are among people ages 5 to 24.
Not the Usual Targets
It's unusual for more severe cases of a flu virus to primarily affect the young. With seasonal flu, older adults are a prime target. In fact, about 60 percent of people hospitalized with seasonal flu complications are older than 65. However, only a few H1N1 cases and few deaths have been reported in people 65 and older. Experts are still studying reasons for this difference. They believe older adults may have partial immunity to the H1N1 strain due to a possible exposure to another H1N1 flu strain that circulated before 1957.
Children younger than 5 and children with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, are at particular risk for complications of the H1N1 virus. Women who are pregnant are also at risk.
The H1N1 virus is spread from person to person, similar to the seasonal flu. People with the H1N1 flu virus may be contagious one day before showing symptoms, and up to seven days after getting sick. Children may be contagious for even longer periods of time. Because it may be impossible to tell whether someone is carrying the virus, it's important for people of all ages to protect themselves from it at all times.
Health experts say that common sense steps are a good prevention strategy. One area to focus on? Your children. A new report shows that children are often the ones who carry viruses into the home. Experts believe that improving kids' hygiene habits will help stop the spread of the virus. Here are some tips to try:
In addition to these healthy tips, get your family vaccinated against the H1N1 and seasonal flu viruses this fall. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several 2009 H1N1 vaccines, which are currently offered in some states for certain people. Ask your doctor if the 2009 H1N1 vaccine is available. If it is, your doctor can tell you if you should receive the vaccine. To find a flu clinic near you and to learn more about H1N1, visit Flu.gov.
Always consult your physician for more information.
Every year, complications from the seasonal flu, such as pneumonia, hospitalize more than 200,000 people and kill 36,000. So getting a flu shot is a good idea for almost everyone. Exceptions are those who have egg allergies or had a bad reaction to an earlier shot. If you're an expecting mother, getting a flu shot may be especially important.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that pregnant moms who were vaccinated cut their newborn's chance of getting the flu by 63 percent. That's important because flu vaccines are recommended only for infants older than age 6 months. And babies younger than 6 months who catch the flu are likelier than older ones to need hospitalization.
A shot and nasal spray are available. The spray isn't recommended for children younger than age 2, pregnant women, or people older than age 50. Talk with your doctor about the immunization that's right for you.