To the editor:
There are many people in the Salem community concerned about the H1N1 "swine" flu virus. Some are alarmed. This is understandable because it is a new virus and although its effects may be mild, it can also cause serious illness and death, particularly to certain high-risk groups.
A vaccine has been developed to prevent the spread of H1N1 influenza. It is safe and has been produced with the same technology used to produce the seasonal influenza vaccination.
The Salem Board of Health (BOH) has received many calls from residents inquiring on when H1N1 vaccination clinics will be held. This vaccine has been slow in arriving and Salem has received only a very small supply of its total order. This situation is not unique to Salem but widespread throughout Massachusetts and other parts of the U.S. At this time, the Salem Board of Health does not expect to receive sufficient quantities of vaccine to hold large-scale public and school-based clinics until December or January.
Based on the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, we are reserving this first supply of the vaccine for people at the greatest risk for H1N1 flu. It also includes those who are most likely to transmit the disease. These groups include pregnant women, those living with pregnant women, those who live with or care for any infants between six months and two years in age, and infants between six months and two years old. (Babies under six months old are too young to receive the vaccine.)
Salem residents who are in any of these groups are urged to contact the Salem Board of Health now at 978-741-1800 to reserve an H1N1 vaccination. As with all BOH clinics, there is no fee for this.
Children with medical conditions, and then anyone between 2 and 24 years of age, are the next priority group; followed by people 25 to 64 who have medical conditions. Pediatricians, general practitioners and other health-care providers are prepared to vaccinate these groups and you should contact them if you would like to reserve a vaccine at this time.
Although the elderly are at highest risk of serious complications from the seasonal flu, current studies have shown that compared to all other age groups, they have the least risk of H1N1 infection. This is why the BOH held seasonal flu clinics last month specifically targeting those over 65. As more of the H1N1 vaccine arrives, the BOH does plan to hold H1N1 clinics for these groups as well. You may also contact your primary care provider who may be able to reserve a vaccine for you at this time.
In the meantime, the best practice is to use preventive measures to help stop the spread of this flu. Some things that you can do:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 30 seconds.
Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when hand-washing facilities are not available.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as this is how the virus may enter the body
Do not to share personal items such as drinks, food or unwashed utensils.
Cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or if tissues are not available, use the sleeve or arm instead of a hand.
Avoid close contact with sick people
Know the signs and symptoms of the flu (fever, cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headache, chills and extreme fatigue), and if you have the flu, limit contact with other people. Stay away from work or school until symptom-free and the fever has been gone for at least 24 hours (without taking any fever-reducing medication).
The BOH will send out notices via the media when additional vaccine arrives and clinics can be scheduled. This information and other updates will also be available at http://www.salem.com/Pages/SalemMA_Health/Swine%20Flu
Dr. Barbara Poremba
Chairperson, Salem Board of Health