The swine flu vaccine has started arriving in Chicagoland and will be available to some people in area clinics, as well as some doctors offices, pharmacies and schools in the coming weeks.
Here’s what you need to know to get prepared and why the swine flu isn’t worth freaking out about.
Priority groups that will first be able to get the vaccine—which comes two forms, a nasal spray and an injection—include youth ages 6 months to 24 years, people ages 24-65 with health conditions associated with high risk of complications from influenza, pregnant women, caregivers and household contacts of children under 6 months old and health care and emergency services providers.
The elderly are less likely to be at risk because they may be carrying immunity from exposure to similar flu strains in the past.
If you’re an adult and you’re thinking about getting a seasonal flu shot, go ahead and do it. If you have the opportunity to get the H1N1 vaccine later, you can do that, too.
Where to get it
Clinic locations have not yet been listed yet for most North Shore suburbs by the Cook County and Lake County Boards of Health. Check these Web sites, or call these numbers, for updates:
You can also call the flu hotline:
Cook County: 708-492-2828
Lake County: 847.377.8350
The Skokie Public Health Department has launched a campaign to vaccine children in all public, private and day care centers, and you can learn more here.
The CDC’s H1N1 vaccine page: www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/vaccination
Ready Illinois H1N1 page: www.idph.state.il.us/h1n1_flu
The federal government’s H1N1 page: www.flu.gov
Most Swine Flu Cases Are Mild
“It’s very similar to the influenza we’re used to, that’s the good news,” says Dr. Kim Seipel Carrow of Winnetka, who has a lot of experience with swine flu from her practice at the Northwestern’s Student Health Center in Evanston. “The bad news is, it’s very contagious. It’s spreading like wildfire.”
Carrow stresses that the vast majority of cases she’s seen in adults are mild—1-2 days of fever, maybe some vomiting and 3-4 days of coughing. So, it’s much like any other flu virus, really.
Individuals younger than 2 and older than 65, or those with compromised immune systems due to diabetes, serious asthma or other conditions, are the ones who should be treated with antiviral drugs. Otherwise, Carrow doesn’t treat most cases, she says.
Healthy Habits around the House
If you aren’t in the at-risk group and can’t get the vaccine yet, there’s never been a better time to establish habits that will keep you and your family healthy. Mibs got the following tips and precautions from Dr. Mary MacGregor of St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, an infectious disease expert, and Joel Africk, executive director of the Respiratory Health Association of Greater Metropolitan Chicago and a Wilmette resident:
- Don’t panic and call your doctor to ask for antiviral drugs. Most of the cases of swine flu in the U.S. have been mild.
- Practice good basic hygiene, and talk about it with your kids over the dinner table. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and put hand sanitizers in gathering area.
- Put some alcohol wipes by the phone that everyone uses in the kitchen, and use them to keep it clean.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If your kids do get sick, keep them home from school. If you get sick, stay home, too, to prevent the illness from spreading. If you or someone in your family develops symptoms of swine flu (which are similar to normal flu symptoms), see a doctor.
- There is no need for the general public to wear masks. In some cases, masks may be recommended for health care workers and people (including family members) who come in close contact with swine flu patients.