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Levy Health Department addresses swine flu and the elderly

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By Carolyn Risner

While it may seem that the mainstream media is overlooking the elderly in its swine flu updates, the Levy County Health Department is taking measures to educate and inform the county's aged on the pandemic.

Monday morning, Liz Powers, director of nurses at the health department, addressed members of Williston's AARP to ensure correct information about H1N1, or swine flu, is disseminated throughout the county.

"The health department is staying close to those over 60," Powers said. "We want to provide accurate information to you in hopes you share it with others."

Powers gave a brief history lesson about the Spanish flu of 1918 that killed almost 100 million people. She said what many do not know is it was actually around in 1917 and worsened the following year.

"H1N1 is starting to creep," she said, "and become worse."

As of Sept. 8, there were 70 confirmed deaths from swine flu in Florida, and those deaths ranged in ages from 5-64.

In Levy County, Powers said, there have been 55 confirmed cases and no deaths. Two of those 55 cases were hospitalized for treatment, she added.

The first cases in Levy County were seen early on, she said, adding it was a grandmother who was 55 and her grandchild who was 4 years old.

About 19 children are sent home everyday from Levy County schools with influenza-like symptom, she said.

Unfortunately, H1N1 symptoms are very similar to seasonal flu symptoms, Powers said. The two most prevalent indicators are fever and a cough, with temperatures ranging from 99.8-104 degrees.

Health officials ask that people, especially those in the high-risk categories to follow these simple suggestions for warding off either of the influenzas:

• Wash your hands often

• Cough/sneeze into your sleeve and not your hand

• Keep highly touched surfaces clean

• Eat, sleep and drink well

• Stay home if you exhibit any symptoms

• Get vaccinated if you are in the targeted age groups

The health department is expected to receive its supply of H1N1 vaccine by mid-October. It will be made available to the public at no cost, Powers said, but private doctors have been given the go-ahead to charge their patients for it.

"We won't charge you at the health department," she said, "for something we get at no cost."

The H1N1 vaccine is strongly encouraged for those in the following targeted groups:

• Pregnant women

• Health care workers and child care workers who care for infants under 6 months old

• Children from ages 6 months to 24 years

• People ages 25-64 who suffer from diabetes, asthma or other respiratory problems

Powers also explained that anyone can be vaccinated except those with egg allergies or those who are extremely ill with another malady.

"If you are sick and suspect the flu," she said, "do not go to the emergency room or a doctor's waiting room. If you didn't have it when you went in, you could have it when you come out." She advises that people call ahead and alert the doctor's staff that you may have the flu and they can counsel you on what measures to take.

If you do have flu symptom, she said, stay home and do not leave your home or come in contact with people for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone without taking fever reducing medications. This is usually a three-five day period.

Powers also dispelled the notion that people get the flu after having the immunization. The flu vaccine is not a live culture, she said, and you will not be given the flu because you chose to be inoculated.

While the health department does take walk-ins, it is advised you call 486-5300 for an appointment to lessen your waiting time.

For seniors on Medicare, the following vaccinations are free to consumers and covered by Medicare insurance:

•Influenza

•Pneumococcal

•Tetanus, diptheria, whooping cough

•Hepatitis B

•Hepatitis A

•Human papillomavirus

•Measles, mumps, rubella

•Varciella (chicken pox)

•Meningococcal