An ounce of prevention: Community can help control spread of H1N1 flu virus with simple steps

August 2009 Posted in Your Health

By Kristine Thomas

Flu Summit

Aug. 21, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Salem Conference Center
200 Commercial St. S.E.
Free; public welcome.

Flu talk
Jamie Baxter and Mary Marschall
of Silverton Hospital talk
about H1N1 influenza
Sept. 1, noon to 1 p.m.
Mt. Angel Public Library
145 Elm St.
Free; public welcome.

Silverton Hospital registered nurses Mary Marschall and Jamie Baxter want people to have the facts about the novel H1N1 influenza and the steps they need to take to prevent its spread.

“We want to get the best information to people so they can make the best decisions for themselves and their families,” said Baxter, who is the business continuity specialist for emergency management. “We don’t want to scare people, but we also don’t want them to be in the dark.”

What concerns health and government officials is an outbreak of the H1N1 flu could happen this fall when children return to school and the weather turns cold.

“The virus is already in the Silverton community,” said Marschall, who is emergency department assistant manager. “We are seeing people in the emergency room every week with flu-like symptoms. We don’t usually see the flu in the summer.”

What is H1N1?
“H1N1 is more contagious than the seasonal flu,” Baxter said. “This flu can kill young and healthy people.”

According to a report by the CDC, the H1N1 flu could strike up to 40 percent of Americans over the next two years and as many as several hundred thousand could die. Officials said the projections could drop if a new vaccine is ready and widely available, which could happen by late October or early November.

The infection estimates are based on the flu pandemic from 1957 which killed nearly 70,000 people in the United States. What concerns Marschall and Baxter is the pattern of the H1N1 virus is following that of the pandemic in 1918.

An influenza pandemic is a widespread outbreak of virus that occurs when a new flu virus appears that people have not been exposed to before. A pandemic is different from the seasonal flu outbreaks. Pandemic flu spreads easily from person to person and can cause serious illness because people do not have immunity to the new virus.

Respiratory diseases such as the flu are spread through droplets released during coughing and sneezing.

The symptoms of the H1N1 flu virus in people are similar to symptoms of the seasonal flu including fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue.

“If you do get the H1N1 flu, the symptoms can typically be treated at home,” Baxter said. ‘The H1N1 flu generally lasts one week and the patient needs fluids and rest.”

Federal and state officials are also strongly recommending that children who have any household member with the flu remain at home, even if healthy, for at least five days to make certain they are not infected.

Both Baxter and Marschall advise sick people be confined to their bedrooms and use only one bathroom to prevent the virus from spreading throughout the house.

From studying the history of pandemics in 1918-19, 1957-58 and 1968-69, Marschall said a key to controlling the spread of a pandemic flu virus is social isolation.

First identified in the United States in April, there have been 436 deaths in the U.S. as of Aug. 6 and 6,506 hospitalized cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Six people have died of the

H1N1 virus in Oregon, including three in Marion County.

In a normal flu season about 36,000 people nationwide die from the flu and its complications, according to the American Medical Association estimates.

The H1N1 virus has caused an unusual number of serious illnesses in teens and young adults; the seasonal flu is usually the toughest on the elderly and very young. Pregnant women are at risk and are the first group recommended for the vaccination.

“Mary and I looked at the statistics and the deaths are increasing,” Baxter said. “That tells us the virus is morphing into something more severe. That means we had to pull the trigger and let people know about the virus and what to do it prevent its spread.”

How to prevent spreading the flu

Both Baxter and Marschall said all types of flu are preventable. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Washing hands frequently, covering one’s coughs and sneezes and staying home when ill are three simple steps people can take to help prevent the spread of H1N1 flu virus.

“Kids need to use old-fashioned soap and water to wash their hands,” Baxter said. “I don’t recommend children use alcohol-based sanitizers because the alcohol absorbs in the body.”

They also recommend staying healthy by eating properly, getting rest and exercising.

If you do get the flu, Baxter and Marschall said it’s important to stay home and rest for seven days. Most people recover from the flu virus without the need for medical care or hospitalization, according to the World Health Organization.

Mt. Angel Police Chief Brent Earhart said it’s important for citizens to keep informed about the H1N1 virus.

He invites the public to attend a free presentation by Marschall and Baxter about the H1N1 virus from noon to 1 p.m. Sept. 1 at the Mt. Angel Public Library.

“When the virus hits, it’s really going to hit,” Earhart said.

Families need to have a plan if someone in their family gets sick. For example, he said, who will stay home to take care of the kids and what will they do if the schools close. Employers also need to have a plan.

“The best case scenario would be this is a nonevent but we were prepared for it,” he said.

Even if there isn’t an H1N1 outbreak, taking precautionary steps to prevent it will also help lessen the cases of seasonal flu. Marschall said it’s important people stay informed of what’s happening and take steps to be prepared.

“People can make a difference to stop the spread of this virus,” Marschall said. “So much of this is in their hands. We will not be able to prevent it but we need to minimize its spread.”

Symptoms of H1N1 Influenza

Fever, cough, body aches and headaches, sore throat, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, vomiting or diarrhea may also occur.Individuals experiencing respiratory problems and a high fever should go to their primary care provider.

Preventive Action

1. Cover your cough and sneezes with a tissue or cough and sneeze into your elbow.

2. Throw used tissues in the trash.

3. Wash! Wash! Wash your hands! Wash often with soap and water for 20 seconds (as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice).

4. Clean hands with 60 percent alcohol-based hand cleaner when you can’t get to a sink with soap. Be sure to rub your hands until they’re dry (no water needed). Children should not use the alcohol-based hand cleaner as it can absorb into the skin, Jamie Baxter said.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, face and mouth. Germs spread that way.

6. Try to avoid close contact with sick people. If someone in your family becomes ill, have them stay in one room so the virus doesn’t spread.

7. Avoid sharing food and drinks. Caution kids from sharing clothes. Buy your own newspaper, don’t read the used one at the coffee shop.

8. If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home from school or work for seven days. Do not return until one to two days after the symptoms end.

9. Call or visit your health care provider for further advice if you become ill.

10. Do your best to stay healthy – Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, manage your stress levels and eat nutritious food.

If you do get the flu
Most people recover from influenza without the need for medical care, according to the World Health Organization.

Get plenty of rest and fluids with electrolytes. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for fever.
Resources to check out

Pandemic Flu Planning Checklists for individuals and families, workplace, schools and community organizations are available at:

Visit for a list of items to have in case of an emergency.

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