Back to school tips to avoid swine flu
If your kids have been free of colds and flu all summer, the thought of the H1N1 swine flu virus has probably not crossed your mind. However, as your kids head back to school, they also head back into an environment that easily breeds contagious illnesses, including the swine flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has targeted the 6 to 24 year old age group as being high risk for contracting swine flu and experts are warning parents to take precautions to protect their children from getting the disease. We asked Dr Martha Howard, specialist in integrative medicine and practitioner with ChicagoHealers.com, for her thoughts on the pending swine flu vaccine and for ways to avoid swine flu in light of the back to school potential for an outbreak.
Swine flu poses greater health risks for children
SheKnows.com: With school starting, there are many parents worried about their children getting the swine flu. Do they really need to worry any more about the swine flu than any other type of influenza?
Dr Howard: At this time, the CDC does not consider novel H1N1 swine flu to be more dangerous than other types of seasonal flu, but it does say that the disease burden of swine flu is greater on younger people.
SheKnows.com: What are the health risks to young people who get swine flu?
Dr Howard: According to the CDC website: "The information analyzed by CDC supports the conclusion that novel H1N1 flu has caused greater disease burden in people younger than 25 years of age than older people. At this time, there are few cases and few deaths reported in people older than 64 years old, which is unusual when compared with seasonal flu. However, pregnancy and other previously recognized high risk medical conditions from seasonal influenza appear to be associated with increased risk of complications from this novel H1N1. These underlying conditions include asthma, diabetes, suppressed immune systems, heart disease, kidney disease, neurocognitive and neuromuscular disorders and pregnancy."
Dangers of the swine flu vaccine
SheKnows.com: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a novel H1N1 swine flu vaccination is currently in production and expected to be released in the fall. On July 29, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met to make recommendations who should receive the vaccine. What are your thoughts on this swine flu vaccine?
Dr Howard: I do not think it is wise to get swine flu vaccination for grade school children at this time, or really for anyone, because the vaccines being developed are to contain the "adjuvant"—a chemical that induces greater immune response – squalene, which is known to cause a harmful immune response in rats resembling rheumatoid arthritis.
SheKnows.com: Can you further explain the potential health risks that the swine flu vaccination and squalene pose for children?
Dr Howard: According to Meryl Nass, MD, an authority on the anthrax vaccine:
"A novel feature of the two H1N1 vaccines being developed by companies Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline is the addition of squalene-containing adjuvants to boost immunogenicity and dramatically reduce the amount of viral antigen needed. This translates to much faster production of desired vaccine quantities."
Novartis's proprietary squalene adjuvant for their H1N1 vaccine is MF59. Glaxo's is ASO3. MF59 has yet to be approved by the FDA for use in any US vaccine, despite its history of use in other countries.
According to Dr Nass, only three vaccines exist that use an approved squalene adjuvant. None of the three are approved for use in the US. There are no other vaccines containing squalene that have been approved for use in the United States.
Swine flu is considered to be about the same as seasonal flu, though it does attack a different age group – more people age 5 to 24 get it, and regular seasonal flu tends more to attack infants and the elderly. There are generally about 100 child deaths per year in the US from flu, and even if that is doubled by swine flu, I don't think it is worth the risk of exposing your child to possible long-term problems with immunity. This all may be a moot point because we probably will not have adequate supplies of the vaccine by the fall season anyway.
Preventative measures to teach your kids
SheKnows.com: For parents who aren't in favor of getting their kids vaccinated against swine flu, what other preventative measures can parents teach their children to lessen the risk of getting swine flu?
Dr Howard: The most important thing to consider about swine flu is how to teach and learn good public health preventive measures that are based on actual facts about the way the flu virus is transmitted. Flu virus is mainly transmitted from person to person by sneezing or coughing, but also can survive from two to eight hours. If you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your nose or eyes, you can be infected.
First, make sure the child carries tissues and hand sanitizer, and knows how to use them: Sneeze or cough into the tissue, throw it in the wastebasket (not on the desk) put a dime size blob of hand sanitizer on hands and rub hands together until dry.
Second, make sure the child is trained as much as possible not to share drinks or food, and not to touch their eyes nose or mouth with their hands.
Third, give the child N-acetylcysteine (an altered form of the amino acid cysteine that may protect lung tissue) in a dose that is proportional by weight to the adult dose of 600 milligrams twice a day. A 70-pound child would be given 300 milligrams twice a day. A 35-pound child would be given 150 milligrams twice a day, and so on. For children under age 2, consult a physician.
SheKnows.com: What natural or homeopathic alternatives are effective in swine flu prevention?
Dr Howard: The most important of these is N-acetylcysteine. A recent study reported in the August 2009 issue of the American Family Physician journal, showed that elderly patients taking 600 milligrams of N-acetylcysteine twice daily over the flu season were much less likely to have clinical influenza illness (29 percent vs. 51 percent of controls), and when they did have it, episodes were much less severe. In addition, cell mediated immunity was improved in the people receiving N-acetylcysteine, and not in the controls.
The best treatment for swine flu
SheKnows.com: What treatment plan do you suggest for parents of kids who get swine flu?
Dr Howard: I would recommend supportive treatment – rest, fluids, and Chinese herbs. The combination of two readily available formulas, Zhong Gan Ling and Yin Chiao Chieh Du Pian (both available online) is effective for treating flu.
Further, here is what the CDC has to say about flu drugs:
"CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir or zanamivir for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with novel H1N1 flu virus. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. During the current pandemic, the priority use for influenza antiviral drugs is to treat severe influenza illness (for example hospitalized patients) and people who are sick who have a condition that places them at high risk for serious flu-related complications."
When medical intervention is a must
SheKnows.com: For children with swine flu, when should parents consider medical intervention?
Dr Howard: According to the CDC, signs in a child that require emergency medical attention are:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish or gray skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Prevention is an important key in reducing the spread of the H1N1 swine flu virus. As the back to school rush begins, be sure to teach your children how to minimize their risk of contracting this potentially fatal communicable disease.