Whatever wind blows the novel H1N1 virus to Evanston, Health and Human Services Director Evonda Thomas says she is confident the City will be prepared. The City expects to receive about 50,000 doses of the vaccine, which it will make available free of charge to any Evanston resident who wishes to receive it, Ms. Thomas said at a meeting on Oct. 7.
Margaret Mathias, communicable disease specialist for the City, said the City will hold a number of clinics to vaccinate school children, including Northwestern students, as well as adults. Vaccination is encouraged, she said, but wholly voluntary. Children under 18 must have written permission from their parents or guardians, and permission slips will be distributed through the schools, she said.
Adults will be given one dose of the vaccine, said Ms. Mathias, but two doses about three weeks apart are recommended for children. She said the City’s timetable for vaccinations will accommodate that waiting period.
These free vaccinations will be administered by nursing students from Loyola University of Chicago.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has targeted certain groups as priorities to receive the vaccine, said Ms. Mathias: households with children under 6 months old, health and emergency-service workers, children aged 6 months to 24 years and persons aged 25 to 64 with underlying medical conditions.
Two Types of Vaccine
There are two types of vaccinations for the H1N1 virus, said Dr. M. Janette Tomlinson, associate director of emergency services at St. Francis Hospital. One is a live but attenuated virus, which is administered as a nasal mist; the second, which contains an inactivated virus, is administered by injection, she said.
Dr. Ari Robicsek, medical director of Infectious Diseases at Northshore University Health Systems, said the attenuated virus has been weakened “so it is safe to live inside a person” for a period of time.
Those for whom a live virus is contraindicated include pregnant women, persons with “very compromised immune systems” and those under 2 years or over 49 years of age, said Dr. Robicsek.
Persons in these groups can be equally protected by the intra-muscular injection (shot) of the vaccine, he said.
Ms. Matthias said that Evanstonians who receive the vaccination through a City-run clinic will not have a choice – except in cases of contraindication – because the City will have to use whatever form of vaccine CDC provides.
Concerns About the Vaccines
Dr. Robicsek and Dr. Tomlinson both said they had heard concerns about the vaccine.
Each said, though, they felt sufficient precautions had been taken.
Dr. Tomlinson said she had heard that some were “afraid of the vaccine because of its possible side effects, such as a nerve disorder and generalized weakness, which had been the case in [the 1976 swine flu] vaccine. “We never know, she said; “there is always a risk and a benefit. Immunizations play a large role in [public health] in our country. This will help [provide] the best immunity possible.”
Dr. Robicsek said the H1N1 vaccine is “thought to be safe.” He said he had heard that some were concerned about the possibility of contracting Guillain-Barré syndrome from the vaccination. He said, though, “One in 100,000 persons will develop Guillain-Barré syndrome regardless of vaccines. With this, the risk might increase to two in 100,000.”
Another concern Dr. Robicsek said he had heard was with thermiosol, the preservative used in the vaccine, which some studies linked to autism. He said, “Those studies have been repudiated by numerous respectable studies.”
Dr. Robicsek said he and his 2-year-old son will each be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus.
The City plans to release the locations of its clinics for free novel H1N1 vaccinations soon. For updates go to evanstonroundtable.com or cityofevanston.org. With the anticipated 50,000 vaccines and a plan to offer the vaccinations to all Evanstonians who wish to have it, Ms. Thomas and her staff are taking the H1N1 virus threat seriously.
“As my colleague in Skokie said, ‘This [the number of H1N1 cases] could be a trickle of rain or a hurricane.’ In either case, it’s a shared responsibility – to take care of one another.”
H1N1 Virus Pandemic
This summer the World Health Organization (WHO) deemed the novel H1N1 virus a pandemic. The term indicates how widespread the virus is, not necessarily its virulence, said Dr. Ari Robicsek, medical director of Infectious Diseases at Northshore University Health Systems. “So far this [pandemic] appears to be caused by a virus with a low mortality rate,” he added. He also said the number of cases is expected to increase this fall over the summer’s figures.
Nonetheless, the City is treating the possibility of widespread H1N1 virus as a potential threat to the health of the community. “Because it is a pandemic, we are using the incident-command structure,” Ms. Mathias said. This involves emergency and police workers as well as health department staff.
Dr. Tomlinson said that, although antiviral medications are available, they would not be of much help in an epidemic of pandemic. With a vaccination, the body builds up antibodies, which provide immunity to multiple exposures to a disease, Dr. Tomlinson said. “Antivirals don’t prevent a disease, but they may shorten its course,” she said. An antiviral may reduce flu symptoms by about a day and a half but it will not cure the disease, she said.
Ways to Prevent the Spread of H1N1 VirusThe City’s Department of Health and Human Services recommends taking the following precautions to prevent the HIN1 virus:
• Cover your cough or sneeze.
• Wash your hands frequently.
• If you get sick, stay home and limit contact with others to avoid the spread of infection.
• Stay home from work or school if you’re exhibiting flu like symptoms
• Do not expect a seasonal flu shot to protect against the H1N1 virus.
• Swine flu is not transmitted by food; persons cannot get swine influenza from eating pork products. However it is always recommended to thoroughly cook pork to avoid food-borne illness.
Dr. Janette Tomlinson, the associate director of emergency services at Saint Francis Hospital, says anyone with the flu should drink liquids, most importantly, ones with sugar (Gatorade or orange juice as examples). “”If you’re not eating, the body seeks sugar, which results in a breakdown of muscle tissue.”” Children, she continued, may prefer popsicles, that she said could be made by freezing apple juice or mixing jello with kool-aid.
Reasons to Seek Medical Attention
Information posted on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website enumerated certain people are “”more likely to get flu complications and they should talk to a health care provider about whether they need to be examined”” should flu symptoms arise this season. These groups included: Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old, people 65 and older, pregnant women, or people with preexisting conditions such as: cancer, blood disorders (including sickle cell disease), chronic lung disease including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, kidney and liver disorders, heart disease, and weakened immune systems (including people with AIDS).
The CDC website also noted it was “”possible for healthy people to develop severe illness from the flu so anyone concerned about their illness should consult a health care provider.””