Fall challenge will focus on health

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By The Staff

The last year has been anything but easy for Kentucky, with every season leaving a major crisis in its wake.

First, there were last fall’s high winds from the remnants of Hurricane Ike.  The winter, of course, will long be remembered for a devastating storm that turned out to be the most expensive in Kentucky’s history.  During the spring and summer, torrential rains led to flash floods, first in Eastern Kentucky and then in Louisville.

This fall, it appears the major challenge for the state will focus more on health rather than weather.

The novel H1N1 flu virus, known informally as the swine flu, has been in the news since it was first discovered in late April, and now with school back in session, it’s beginning to make headlines again.

Kentucky has received high marks in recent years for being prepared for such a crisis, and last week, more than 1,400 people whose jobs are tied in some way to flu prevention or treatment came to Frankfort for a major summit on the subject.

Dr. William Hacker, the state’s Department of Public Health commissioner, told the media that while he was concerned about H1N1, he was not alarmed, because – so far – it has not proven to be more harmful to individuals than the traditional flu.

What it has proven to be is highly contagious, because very few people below the age of 65 have any resistance to it and as much as 40 percent of the population could become infected.  In short, we will see two simultaneous flu seasons in the months ahead.

During a normal flu season, there are 36,000 deaths annually in the United States, with about 500 of those in Kentucky.  So far this year, there have been about 1,800 people worldwide die from H1N1.  Last week, Kentucky recorded its first death, although officials said there were other contributing factors.

As we prepare for the challenges ahead, here are some things to keep in mind:

• Take time to get the traditional flu vaccine now and beat the rush.  It’s good for nine months to a year, and while it will not prevent the H1N1 flu, it is important to stay in good health.

• When the H1N1 vaccine does become available in mid-October, priority will be given to children between six months and four years of age (infants cannot receive it); children and adults with such chronic medical conditions as heart disease, diabetes or lung ailments; pregnant women; healthcare workers; and caregivers with young children.

• The H1N1 vaccine will possibly require two doses at different times for full immunity.  The vaccine itself is free, though some providers may charge a small fee to administer it.  The H1N1 vaccine and the traditional flu vaccine can be given at the same time.

• Cough or sneeze into your arm at the elbow or into a tissue rather than on your hands. Afterward, wash hands for at least 15 to 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.  The flu virus can live for up to eight hours on surfaces, so taking these steps is the best way to avoid infecting someone else.

• Stay home while sick and for 24 hours after the fever has left.  Like traditional flu, H1N1 is responding to antiviral drugs like Tamiflu; they are not a cure, but they do lessen the symptoms.

• It may be known as the swine flu, but exposure can only be passed from one human to another.  There is no chance of catching it by eating properly prepared pork products.

More information can be found online at several websites.  The one maintained by the state is http://healthalerts.ky.gov/. The federal government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention also has a lot of good information; its website is http://www.cdc.gov. Officials working for local health department and hospitals are another source for those wanting someone to talk to.

Hopefully, the novel H1N1 flu virus will turn out to be the crisis that never was, but that does not diminish the need to be vigilant now.  We may not be able to change the weather, but in this case, we can truly make a difference by working together.

If you would like to contact me about this issue or any other involving state government, I can be reached at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.

You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181.  For the deaf or hard of hearing, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Representative Rick Rand