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State Health Director Stresses Early Intervention for Vulnerable as H1N1 Continues

Release Date: June 12, 2009
Contact: Bill Furney, 919-715-4174

RALEIGH – Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised the worldwide pandemic alert level associated with the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus to Phase 6.  A Phase 6 designation simply means that the virus has spread worldwide.  It does not mean that the virus is growing stronger or is having a more severe affect on individuals’ health than when it started.

State Health Director Jeffrey Engel said today that the Phase 6 designation is a good opportunity to re-emphasize prevention messages and to focus on early intervention efforts, especially with those who are most vulnerable.

“Influenza is more of a health threat for people with certain underlying condition, such as asthma, women who are pregnant, and infants less than 2 years of age”, Dr. Engel said. “People who are in these high risk groups and have symptoms of flu should contact a doctor right away to see if they should be treated for influenza with antiviral medications. If they have any doubts about the nature of their illness they should contact their health care provider immediately.”

The symptoms of novel H1N1 are similar to those of seasonal flu and include fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Many people have reported diarrhea and vomiting.  Like seasonal flu, severe illnesses and death has occurred as a result of illness from this virus.

“The best way to prevent catching novel H1N1 or any flu is to follow the recommendations we provide during every flu season,” Dr. Engel said.  “People forget that they have a tremendous ability to prevent sickness if they follow these simple guidelines.”

The five basic prevention steps everyone should follow are:

  • Stay home if you are sick to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

For more information regarding prevention and treatment please visit www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu/qa.htm.

Note to reporters: Beginning next week, the list of North Carolina counties reporting cases of novel H1N1 flu will be updated on a weekly basis as does the CDC.  The first weekly update will be posted on June 17 on the usual web page, flu.ncdhhs.gov.  Postings each week will be made around 3:30 pm.  Because of different reporting schedules, the totals reported might not always be consistent with those reported by CDC.

While tracking the number and location of individual cases is important during the early phases of any influenza outbreak, in later phases emphasis is placed on assessing the virus’ impact on communities and monitoring for changes in the virus. To accomplish this, the North Carolina Division of Public Health relies on several existing systems for flu surveillance. Information about the state’s Influenza Sentinel Surveillance Program can be found at www.flu.ncdhhs.gov/epi/gcdc/flusentsurv.html.  Additional information about state flu activity is available in the North Carolina Weekly Influenza Surveillance Summary, www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/gcdc/flu2009.html.