As the number of H1N1 virus cases continues to increase in the U.S. everyone should be diligent in ways to prevent the illness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is concerned that the new H1N1 flu virus could result in a particularly severe 2009-2010 flu season. The H1N1 virus is now widespread and confirmed in 41 states.
“Nationwide, visits to doctors for influenza-like-illness increased over last week and this many reports of widespread activity are unprecedented during seasonal flu,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat with the CDC. “In addition, flu-related hospitalizations and deaths are increasing and are higher than expected for this time of year and are beyond the epidemic threshold.”
Most people who get the flu –either seasonal or 2009 H1N1— will have mild illness and will not necessarily need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will typically recover in less than two weeks.
For those with cancer and undergoing cancer treatment, any flu virus is of particular concern. Cancer and cancer treatments can make your immune system weak and less able to fight germs. There are several things all cancer patients should know about the new strain of H1N1.
Cancer patients are considered among those in the high-risk group and should get both the common flu and H1N1 virus vaccines, according to the CDC and the American Cancer Society. Any flu shots you've had in the past, including the swine flu vaccine used in 1976, will not protect you from this new H1N1 virus. It's a good idea for cancer patients to consult their physicians to see if additional medication is needed to prevent the flu and if the current vaccinations are recommended for them.
The CDC reports nearly all of the influenza viruses identified so far are 2009 H1N1 influenza A viruses. These viruses remain similar to the virus chosen for the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, and remain susceptible to the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir with rare exception.
The CDC also reported a brief shortage of 2009 H1N1 vaccine this week, and at least initially, the vaccine will be available in limited quantities reserved for high-risk groups.