Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Swine flu less severe, but still around

A Severna Park school got big headlines and a thorough cleaning after a family fell ill. Drug companies scrambled to create a vaccine, and health workers rushed to give people the shot.

Before all but disappearing this spring, swine flu claimed 45 lives in Maryland, and accounted for 1,100 hospitalizations.

But now, swine flu is practically a distant memory.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization declared an end to the global pandemic of the virus, which officially is called H1N1.

"The new H1N1 virus has largely run its course," Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO's director-general, said in making the announcement on Aug. 10.

But, she warned, that doesn't mean H1N1 is gone for good.

It turns out that H1N1 may be turning into yet another strain of flu that circulates during flu season.

"It's kind of run its course. Since we have some immunity in the population, it turns into any other seasonal influenza," said Dr. Kelly Russo, acting deputy county health officer.

The flu vaccine for the upcoming flu season combats three strains of flu, one of which is H1N1, said Frances B. Phillips, deputy secretary for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

H1N1 is one of the strains making people sick right now in the Southern Hemisphere, which is currently in its flu season, Phillips said.

The H1N1 strain is still worrisome for the same reasons it freaked out so many people when it showed up last year: It hits young children the hardest.

"This is a virus that affects young people more severely," Phillips said.

That's why it's important for children and adults alike to get vaccinated against the flu, either through a shot or the nasal spray, she said.

For the first time, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that every American - of all ages, whether healthy or with medical problems - should get the flu vaccine.

Also, children ages 6 months to 8 years should get two flu shots the first year they're vaccinated. Kids who got only one shot last year and didn't get the H1N1 vaccine should get two shots this year, according to the CDC.

Parents unsure of their child's previous shot status should go ahead and get two shots this year, Russo said.

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