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10th Medical Group gears up for H1N1 vaccines

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- The Department of Defense announced Sept. 2 that all military personnel will be vaccinated against the H1N1 influenza strain. The vaccine is also expected to be available for family members who want it. 

H1N1 vaccines will be distributed at the Air Force Academy shortly after they arrive, a physician with the 10th Medical Group's Surgeon General Office here said. 

It's not yet clear when H1N1 vaccines will arrive at the Academy, but the vaccines will probably become available in late October or sometime in November, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Catherine Witkop said. The Food and Drug Administration approved four new H1N1 vaccines Sept. 15. 

Distribution will begin shortly after the vaccine's arrival and will be prioritized depending on the number of doses available, Dr. Witkop said. Small amounts of the seasonal flu vaccine have already been administered to active-duty servicemembers and high-risk individuals on the Academy. 

The number of H1N1 doses required for full immunization is yet to be determined, although early testing has shown that single doses of the vaccine provide a 97-percent protection rate. Dr. Witkop said the number may vary depending on age or other factors, and formal recommendations have not yet been made. 

H1N1 is a subtype of the seasonal influenza virus. Symptoms of both include fever, sore throat, runny nose, coughing, nausea, muscle aches and fatigue. H1N1 is similar in severity to the seasonal flu. Observations this summer among cadets with H1N1 revealed symptoms lasted on average between five and six days. 

Schools, workplaces and other entities vary in isolation time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends those diagnosed with the flu remain home until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever (and are not taking medicines to treat a fever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen). Dr. Witkop said Academy cadets must stay in self-isolation in their dormitories for seven days after the onset of their symptoms
and until they are symptom-free for 24 hours. 

"Our experience here this summer demonstrated that patients with H1N1 may still be contagious past the time their symptoms have resolved," she said. "Given the close contact among the cadets and that young adults are the individuals most likely to become sick, we believe it is prudent to keep this population away from others for longer than what the CDC recommends." 

Treatment options for the flu include rest, drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding alcohol and tobacco use and taking medications to relieve the symptoms. Because influenza is a virus, antibiotics such as penicillin are ineffective. 

The CDC recommends people who are sick should seek immediate medical care in the event of difficulty breathing, chest pain, purple or blue discoloration of the lips, vomiting, seizures, confusion, dehydration or the inability to tolerate liquids resulting in dizziness, absence of urination, or as with infants, lack of tears when crying. 

Vaccinations are the first and most powerful lines of defense against the flu. But people can take common sense measures to curb its spread. The CDC recommends covering coughs and sneezes, frequent hand washing, disposing of tissues and keeping surfaces clean using a household disinfectant. Eating utensils should not be shared without thoroughly washing in a dishwasher or by hand with soap and water. Linens such as sheets and towels should be washed using household laundry soap and drying on a hot setting. Most of all, flu victims should stay away from those not affected as much as possible.

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