It seems that every time the news is on, H1N1 is being mentioned. A short recap will put the H1N1 news in perspective and help nurses prepare for the upcoming flu season. The H1N1 influenza first appeared in early 2009 and it quickly generated a public uproar. It resulted in countless hospitalizations, closed schools and a general feeling of panic. According to the CDC, the 2009 H1N1 is a new influenza virus that has been spreading from person-to-person worldwide. It was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in June of 2009. Originally, the virus was referred to as “swine flu” because laboratory testing showed that there were similarities to the viruses that occur in pigs in North America. Further studies show that this virus is very different. The 2009 H1N1 spreads in the same way that seasonal flu spreads which is from person-to-person through coughing or sneezing by people who are infected. People can also become infected by touching something that has the flu viruses on it and then consequently touching their mouth or nose.
The symptoms of the virus include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A large number of people with the virus have also reported diarrhea and vomiting. Illness from the H1N1 has ranged from mild to severe. Although most people have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations and deaths have occurred.
So what can nurses do about the H1N1 virus? It is important for nurses to become an educated voice of reassurance for their patients, their families and the community in which they serve. Situations such as a pandemic can produce much anxiety. The constant barrage of information in the news and on the internet can invoke more sense of a threat than actually exists. Nurses should take the initiative to educate themselves in the recent public health data released by the CDC or other reputable public health organizations. By following their employer’s guide to infection control, nurses can help prevent the spreading of germs. In addition, nurses should educate their patients on proper infection control.
Finally, the best way nurses can protect themselves is by getting vaccinated. The American Nurses Association recommends that nurses get vaccinated against both H1N1 and the seasonal flu. The CDC’s director, Thomas Frieden, M.D. agreed and said that protecting health care workers is critically important. They are the first line of defense, he says, and we need to make sure we do everything we can to reduce their risk of becoming ill. Early data indicate that a single dose is likely to produce a protective immune response in a healthy adult, an NIH official said on September 11, 2009. Once the dosing schedules are finalized, the vaccine will be ready by late October. The latest news is that the vaccines will come in shipments over the next few months. For further details and to keep up on the latest H1N1 information, please visit the CDC’s H1N1 web site. www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/swineflu_you.htm