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New Flu Strain Targets Younger People

Since the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus spread to the United States 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 2009 H1N1 infections are among people ages 5 to 24.

Not the usual targets

Itís unusual for more severe cases of the flu 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. But only a few 2009 H1N1 cases and deaths have been reported in people in that age group. Experts are still studying reasons for this difference. They believe older adults may have partial immunity to the 2009 H1N1 strain because of a possible exposure to another H1N1 flu strain that circulated before 1957.

Younger people at particular risk for complications from the 2009 H1N1 virus include people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, and women who are pregnant. Itís not yet known how the 2009 H1N1 virus may affect very young children, but kids younger than age 5 are at higher risk for seasonal flu complications.

H1N1 on campus

More than a dozen U.S. colleges had hundreds of students sick with 2009 H1N1 during the first few weeks of the 2009-10 school year. College students are often least likely to take the flu seriously, and dorm living, fraternity parties, and football games make it easy for viruses to spread.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging universities to revise attendance policies, if necessary, to encourage students and faculty to stay home if they have flu symptoms. The CDC is also encouraging universities to isolate students with flu symptoms. For students who donít have their own rooms, the CDC suggests that colleges set up temporary housing where sick students can stay until 24 hours after flu symptoms go away. Another alternative is asking sick students to wear surgical masks. The CDC recommends that colleges discourage students with flu symptoms from attending campus events like football games.

How to protect your family

The 2009 H1N1 virus is spread from person to person, similar to the seasonal flu. People with the 2009 H1N1 flu virus may be contagious one day before showing symptoms, and up to seven days after getting sick. Children are thought to be contagious for even longer periods of time. Because it may be impossible to tell whether someone is carrying the virus, itís important for people of all ages to protect themselves from it at all times.

The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from seasonal flu, but that vaccine probably wonít offer protection against 2009 H1N1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several 2009 H1N1 vaccines, and they are currently offered in some states for certain people. This vaccine is approved for children 6 months and older. The CDC recommends that parents and caregivers of infants younger than 6 months also receive the vaccine. Ask your doctor if the vaccine is available. If it is, your doctor can tell you if you should receive a 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine. People should receive this vaccine in addition to the seasonal flu shot, not instead of it.

Focus on kids

Health experts also stress that commonsense steps are a good prevention strategy. One area to focus on is your children. A new report shows that children are often the ones who carry viruses into the home. Experts believe that improving kidsí hygiene habits will help stop the spread of the virus. Here are some tips to try:

  • Teach your children to wash their hands often and thoroughly. If they tend to rush hand washing, have them sing a short song like ďHappy BirthdayĒ while theyíre lathering their hands. It will help ensure they wash long enough. If they forget to wash, put up reminder signs at their eye level to encourage healthy habits.
  • Hang and assign different-colored hand towels for use by each family member.
  • Purchase child-friendly soaps that are designed to appeal to kids. Little ones may be more likely to use them.
  • Have children carry and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for times they canít wash their hands.
  • Instruct children to sneeze or cough into their shirt sleeves or elbows instead of their hands if they donít have a tissue. Hands are more likely to spread germs. They should also avoid touching their eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Try to keep children away from friends, family, and classmates who are sick.
Compiled by StayWell Custom Communications