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Previously Asked Questions
(Questions and answers start with the most recent)
HDHHS Office of Public Health Practice
Just how serious was the H1N1 pandemic?
Very serious. From April 2009 to March 2010, the pandemic resulted in at least 226 deaths in Texas, 9 of which were in Houston. From October 2009 to March 2010, 2,232 were hospitalized after contracting the flu, with 114 in Houston.
In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in response to the H1N1 pandemic, and renewed the declaration after thorough evaluation on July 24, October 1, and December 28, 2009, and on March 26, 2010.
The most recent emergency declaration expired on June 23, 2010 and was not renewed. However, the H1N1 flu is still circulating. Houstonians should not stop taking H1N1 or seasonal flu seriously. Continue to take steps to prevent yourself and your loved ones from catching the flu by washing your hands frequently, covering your cough with a sleeve or a tissue, and staying home while experiencing flu-like symptoms. (9-10-2010)
What should I expect for the 2010 fall flu season?
No one, including top health officials, can make completely accurate predictions for the 2010 fall flu season. However, we do know that everyone will continue to be at risk. Getting vaccinated will still be to be best defense against both seasonal and H1N1 influenza.
To further reduce the spread of infection, always use good hygiene practices. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth. Be sure to cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home if you’re sick. Always try to avoid contact with people showing symptoms. And, get a flu immunization annually.(8-3-2010)
Last year, my physician strongly recommended the H1N1 vaccine in addition to the seasonal flu vaccine. Since I received both immunizations last year, do I need to get them again for protection in the 2010 fall flu season?
No. Beginning in the fall of 2010, the seasonal flu vaccine will include protection against the 2009 H1N1 influenza in addition to the seasonal flu virus. Thus, most Americans will likely need only one flu vaccine to protect them against the major circulating flu viruses throughout the 2010-2011 flu season, which begins in fall of 2010. Your general practitioner can answer questions about changes to the vaccine, individual needs and special medical conditions.
To find out where vaccine is available in your area, visit www.FightTheFluHouston.com. (7-18-2010)
Is it too late in the season now to get a vaccine? Why should I get vaccinated if there are no reports of outbreak in Houston?
It's not too late to get vaccinated. Influenza is still circulating in the community and being immunized will protect you from getting the flu. (3-26-2010)
I've heard that Texas Children's Hospital is getting more children in with H1N1. My son only received one of the two shots for vaccination, should I go ahead and get the second shot?
Yes, according to the CDC: In previously unvaccinated persons aged <9 years, 2 doses of seasonal influenza vaccine are required to induce immunity because young children typically have had limited exposure to influenza viruses and are not immunologically primed (i.e., they do not have preexisting antibodies). The lack of preexisting antibody cross-reactive with the novel influenza A (H1N1) virus among children and younger adults raises the possibility that 2 doses of vaccine (typically separated by ≥21 days) also will be needed to provide protection for persons in these age groups. (3-20-2010)
If I was vaccinated for both seasonal flu and H1N1 in January, will I need to be vaccinated again this Fall? Will there be two separate shots again?
Unfortunately, protection from the influenza vaccine only lasts about a year, so you will need to get immunized again next year. The good news is that you'll only need one shot - the seasonal and H1N1 vaccines will be combined into one dose. (2-26-2010)
When will the H1N1 vaccine be available to adults with comprised immune systems (diabetes for 42 years) and I have started on a chemotherapy drugs. Unfortunately neither of my doctors are receiving the injectable version at this point and I cannot take any live vaccines. My age is 55 so I am not a child and not pregnant which are the only people eligible for the injection. The news (channel 11 implied that the injection would be able to eligible individual - I believe that the CDC would consider my conditions to make be eligible for the vaccine for H1N1.
The vaccine is now available to everyone. You can find out where vaccine is available in your area at www.FightTheFluHouston.com. (2-24-2010)
I didn't get vaccinated for seasonal or H1N1, and now that the vaccine has been available at pharmacies and grocery stores for several months, is it expired and would it still be effective?
When vaccine reaches its expiration date, it's pulled and no longer offered for immunizations. The vaccine that's being offered in pharmacies and grocery stores (or indeed anywhere) is potent and will protect you from the flu. (2-15-2010)
Are we seeing the third wave of the pandemic?
Right now we're not sure. While there has been a few more cases of flu, the numbers don't indicate a third wave. However, we're keeping a close eye on the situation since it was about a year ago that H1N1 first appeared. (1-10-2010)
My business club would like to have someone talk to us about things we can do at our businesses to protect employees from the flu. Does the City provide that type of service?
As part of our education and community outreach programs, organizations can request presentations by completing the request form on the home page of www.FightTheFluHouston.com or by calling HDHHS Community Liaison, Noel Pinnock at 713-303-4624. (12-22-2009)
Our son has autism. I am now 34 weeks pregnant and am trying to find the preservative free shot we have heard about. Although they say the regular one is safe I don't feel comfortable. Where can I get a preservative free swine flu shot or order one? (11-2-2009)
You can obtain a single dose, thimerosal, or preservative free injection at HDHHS health clinics; there is an extremely limited supply available for pregnant women and children older than four years old. Also, please check with your primary and specialty care physicians.
If someone has a light cough since last Tuesday 10-27-09 can he still get the H1N1 vaccine? He is 7 years old. (11-2-2009)
According to the Vaccine Info Sheet for LAIV which if the person is otherwise healthy we would recommend - "If you are moderately or severely ill, you might be advised to wait until you recover before getting the vaccine. If you have a mild cold or other illness, there is usually no need to wait."
Are the shots being given to pregnant women single-dose syringes or are they from multi-dose vials that contain thimerasol preservative? (10-30-2009)
Vaccines given to pregnant women are single-dose and do not contain thimerosol.
My 3 1/2 year old asthmatic son received the H1N1 vaccine injection this week at a health clinic. I keep hearing comments that he actually needs to go back in a couple of weeks for another one. Is this correct? (10-30-2009)
Yes, children under age 10 years of age need to receive a second dose of vaccine four weeks after the first dose.
I am in the high risk group because I'm pregnant and in the health care field. I tried to go to a couple of clinics today but they all ran out of the day supply. These clinics operate on first come, first serve basis. How can I get the vaccine since I can't get out of work early enough to get to these clinics in time? (10-30-2009)
Please check with your ob/gyn or primary medical provider as vaccine has also been distributed to private providers. Your employer may also have received vaccine for priority patients. Additional vaccines arrive in Houston every week.
I am a Director for Varnett Public School we have 3 campuses. All of our students are low-income and un/underinsured. We would like to sponsor a H1N1 vaccination drive. We have had quite a few H1N1 cases so far this year. And we want to show our parents as well as the community that we are committed to the health and well being of the community. If possible, what would we have to do to arrange for it? (10-30-2009)
We expect to have enough vaccine by the end of November and will be setting up school clinics at that time.
Why are all of the H1N1 vaccines in Harris county so far going to public clinics where the uninsured go, and not private clinics for people who ARE insured? This is the third time I have sent this question, and you have yet to post it with an answer. (10-29-2009)
This is not correct. Vaccine is allocated and shipped to each medical provider (doctors, clinics, pharmacies) by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Only the public health department promotes immunization for the public, which may skew that perception.
Can children under 24 months get the H1N1 shot at the free clinics? (10-29-2009)
Yes, children 6 months to 24 months can receive the injectable vaccine free at HDHHS clinics. H1N1 vaccine is provided at no charge to anyone at all HDHHS sites.
If my son with asthmatic problems has not received a regular flu shot this year, will it be ok for him to get the H1N1 vaccine if I find it available? (10-28-2009)
Yes, he can receive the H1N1 vaccine but it is recommended that he get the seasonal vaccine as well. He can receive both vaccines at the same time or separately.
I have two of my children that have heart murmur - do they have to take a specific kind of H1N1 or flu shot? (10-28-2009)
Please check with your medical provider to get his/her recommendations. We are not able to provide specific medical advice over the internet since we are not familiar with their medical histories.
My doctor does not have an appointment for Swine Flu vaccinations open until late November. I am not eligible for WIC, etc., and I can afford to pay for the vaccine if I can just obtain it. Can I go to a HDHS clinic and receive the vaccine -- and PAY for it? I have a toddler and a baby at home. Thanks! (10-28-2009)
Although we are targeting priority populations for the vaccine, we will not turn anyone away. You (and your children, if over 6 mo of age) can get the vaccine at one of our clinics as long as we have vaccine available.
I am 55 years of age with RA, asthma and on methotrexate and remicade, immunosuppressant drugs. I can only take the injectable form of the vaccine. My doctor does not expect to get the vaccine. I noticed the clinics were for nasal or some injectable for pregnant and children. When will I be able to get the vaccine? (10-27-2009)
You are member of a priority group for vaccination and so can receive the inactivated vaccine in our clinics (first come, first serve - we have limited doses right now of inactivated vaccine). Check out times and locations at houstonflu.org.
I read that the US is allowing adjuvants in the H1N1 vaccines. The US has never before approved these adjuvants for vaccines in the past because of their possible side effects...mainly autoimmune diseases. The WHO states on their website that adjuvants ARE being used in the vaccines produced by Novartis and GlaxoSmithKline. Please specify if these H1N1 vaccines are being made available in the USA and in Harris County. (10-27-2009)
Adjuvants are not licensed for influenza vaccines in the US. No influenza vaccines in the US contain adjuvant.
I am HIV positive. Will H1N1 vaccines be available for individuals like me? Are there certain steps or measures we'll have to take to obtain a shot? What should we do? Is the regular flu shot all we'll be able to receive? (10-16-2009)
Yes, there will be H1N1 vaccine available for you since you are a in a target priority group. There are no steps or measures you need to take except to check with your primary care physician to see if they have received the injectable H1N1 vaccine, and watch the HDHHS webpage to see when the injectable vaccine will available in the clinics. You will be able to receive both the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 shot this flu season.
If someone in my household has a confirmed case of the flu (season or H1N1), what cleaning precautions would you recommend to disinfect my home? I'm mainly concerned with the toilets, sinks, and tubs. Is there a certain brand/kind of cleaner you would suggest?
There isn't a particular brand of household disinfectant that you should use. Simply follow the directions on the disinfectant product's label to clean bathroom surfaces, bedside tables and children's toys. Here are a few more tips on household cleaning:
- Throw away tissues and other disposable items used by the sick person in the trash. Wash your hands after touching used tissues and similar waste.
- Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick do not need to be cleaned separately, but importantly these items should not be shared without washing thoroughly first.
- Wash linens (such as bed sheets and towels) by using household laundry soap and tumble dry on a hot setting. Avoid "hugging" laundry prior to washing it to prevent contaminating yourself. Clean your hands with soap and water right after handling dirty laundry. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Eating utensils should be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap.
If an employee has a family member at home with a confirmed case of H1N1, should the employee come to work? Is it possible for that employee to spread H1N1 at the office even though they don't appear to be ill? (9/22/09)
In general, you do not have to stay home if you have been exposed to nH1N1 influenza. You should, however, take normal precautions – clean your hands and cover your cough/sneeze. However, if you work in a healthcare setting or among those at higher risk of complications such as pregnant women, children under age 2 yrs, or any age with a chronic disease, such as a neuromuscular disorders, diabetes, kidney disease, immunosuppression, etc., you may want to consider not exposing these susceptible populations to influenza, as you can be infectious 24 hrs or so before you start showing symptoms.
I am concerned that I have some symptoms of swine flu but I do not have insurance. What can I do, who should I need to contact? (9/14/09)
A list of clinics to which you can go if you don’t have insurance can be found at Project Safety Net at www.slehc.org/CHI/CHIS/PSN/Index.cfm. Primary Care Clinics (FQHC) are
However, CDC states that seeking medical attention is not necessary unless you are in one of the high –risk groups (pregnant, under 5 years of age, any age with chronic disease). Further information from the CDC website (cdc.gov) is given below:
What should I do if I get sick?
If you live in areas where people have been identified with 2009 H1N1 flu and become ill with influenza-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people. CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.) Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick. Staying at home means that you should not leave your home except to seek medical care. This means avoiding normal activities, including work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.
If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed.
If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care.
In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
- 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
In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Questions posted prior to April 29, 2009
What if a person doesn't have any medical insurance and has symptoms of swine flu?
Please check the HDHHS website (www.houstonhealth.org) for a list of Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to which you can go. Look in the health centers section.
My grandson has the flu and fever for the last two days. We have no insurance and the doctor wants $250 to test for swine flu. Are there any other options?
HDHHS does not provide primary care. We would suggest you contact Ask a Nurse at Gateway to Care - 713.633.CALL (2255).
When should someone with flu-like symptoms seek medical care?
Fever over 100 degrees is the general guideline but in the very young or very old, you may want to be a bit more cautious and go in earlier. Also, many other conditions can cause these symptoms.
How long does it take for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to determine if a person has H1N1?
Samples are first sent to the HDHHS laboratory where we test to see if there is influenza A present and if so, is it a common subtype of influenza. That takes 12 -24 hours. If we can't identify it, then it is sent to the CDC for sub typing. It takes one to two days to receive the results.
There was a vaccine in the mid to late 70's for swine flu. Why isn't it available now?
The 1976 virus, although called swine flu, appears to have been a completely different virus and so the vaccine made against it back in 1976 would not work.
What is the incubation time prior to developing symptoms? Can you give advice as to what businesses in the Houston area should be doing in regards to educating employees? Should we be encouraging employees to work from home at this point, or is it still safe to be gathering in an office setting? If someone at our company were to be diagnosed with this flu, what steps would the company need to take? Would we have to shut down the building and for how long? Thanks!
- Incubation period (time after you’ve been exposed to when you develop symptoms) is 1-7 days
- The HDHHS (www.houstonhealth.org) and CDC web pages (www.cdc.gov) have a lot of good information to distribute to employees including hand washing and "cover your cough" posters that you can print and post.
- At this point, we are not encouraging employees to work from home, although it is possible this advice may change.
Should someone be diagnosed with 2009 H1N1 influenza, health department epidemiologists will be quickly in touch to inform you about what needs to be done. To start with, the health dept would begin careful monitoring of other employers to see if there are any signs or symptoms of influenza.