As of June 11, 2009 the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its worldwide pandemic alert regarding the H1N1 flu to Phase 6. This was due specifically to the widespread nature of the virus and not the severity of the symptoms, which tend to be similar or even milder than the seasonal flu. The United States continues to report the largest number of those diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. As of June 2009, all 50 states had reported cases of H1N1, though only about 41 states are currently reporting widespread infection, with New York appearing to be the hardest hit.
While the 1918 influenza outbreak was also classified as H1N1, as was an outbreak in 1977, the current strain is considered “novel” and much less potent than earlier strains. The 1918 outbreak was caused by an extremely virulent and deadly form of the virus and affected about one-third of the world’s population, while the 1977 outbreak was isolated and affected only about 200 soldiers stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Weekly updates on the current number of people affected can be obtained at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. Keep in mind that the numbers reflect those individuals who have sought medical care and received a definitive diagnosis. They do not include those who have treated themselves at home.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
Most who are infected with the flu will suffer the usual flu symptoms of body aches, congestion, fever, chills, cough, headache, fatigue, diarrhea and/or vomiting. Not all people will have all the symptoms and most of the time will get better by just staying home and taking it easy. There comes a time, though, when symptoms become more serious and a trip to the emergency room or family physician is necessary.
In children, the warning signs include:
- Trouble breathing, or unusually fast breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not waking up or interacting
- Flu-like symptoms that get better, but then come back worse
- Fever with rash
- Extreme irritability
In adults, the warning signs include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe, persistent vomiting
You needn’t go the emergency room if you are just a little sick, but do go if the symptoms get worse or if you are in a high risk population. If your symptoms are mild, and you don’t have the flu, going to an emergency room will only expose you to others who do have the flu and you could catch it from them.
The Most Vulnerable
It appears that the most vulnerable to getting the H1N1 virus, as well as having the most serious symptoms, are those under 24 years of age and pregnant women. This may be because those in the older population have had exposure to similar viruses in the past, which created immunity. Those who are most vulnerable among the general population, along with healthcare workers and those taking care of children younger than six years of age, are the highest priority for getting the vaccine as it becomes available.
Others who are more susceptible to getting the flu, or who may likely suffer more severe and even life-threatening symptoms, include those with preexisting illnesses such as:
- Blood disorders
- Chronic lung disease
- Heart disease
- Kidney or liver disorders
- Neurological disorders
- Neuromuscular disorders such as muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis
- Weakened or compromised immune systems, including HIV/AIDS
The H1N1 specific vaccine started being shipped out to hospitals and clinics in mid-October. According to the CDC, shipments will continue and increase through December.
Prevention for Bodyworkers
There are many things that massage therapists and other bodyworkers can do to help prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus, or any other form of seasonal influenza:
- If a client comes in who is obviously ill with flu-like symptoms, reschedule the appointment to a later date. No one should be worked on who presents a fever, congestion, chills or other typical indications of influenza.
- If you work in a medical setting, such as a hospital, hospice or group home, consider getting vaccinated. Healthcare workers are classified as a priority when vaccines are administered.
- If you do get the flu vaccination, consider rescheduling appointments for at least a week. It takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to be effective and, until that time, you are vulnerable. There may also be mild side effects from the vaccine, such as low-grade fever, muscle aches or a runny nose, depending on which type of vaccine you get.
- If it seems like a lot of your clients are getting the flu, you may want to offer home-call sessions to your healthy clients. This means less exposure for them. The one problem with this is you do not have strict control over flu-prevention precautions at their home or office.
- Have handouts available for clients with updated information. The CDC has free downloadable brochures, flyers and posters in PDF format on their website, as well as free podcasts with current information.
- Look up local flu outbreak statistics. They are available and updated regularly on the CDC website. The online version of your local newspaper or health department may also have the information.
- Be vigilant when it comes to cleanliness, especially around your office. You may want to toss used sheets in a plastic bag or a cloth bag that can be washed, rather than a hamper. Remember to wash hands both before and after working on clients and wipe down the massage table and bolters before and after each use. There are many antiviral sprays and wipes on the market that are both effective and easy to use.
The best approach to staying healthy is not to panic. Stress only depresses the immune system and makes you more vulnerable to illness. By following basic universal precautions you can reduce the likelihood of catching most seasonal illnesses and remain available to your clients. If you do end up getting the flu, it will most likely be mild and respond to time, bed and plenty of fluids, including good ole grandma’s chicken soup.