MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Medical clinics on base are encouraging service members to get their seasonal flu vaccines now, while vaccines for the H1N1 virus are expected to be available by early November.
This year, in addition to the annual seasonal influenza vaccine, active duty service members are required to be immunized against H1N1. The H1N1 vaccine will also be available at their local organizational aid stations, said Navy LT Colleen F. Perez, a medical officer at the Regimental Aid Station, Combat Logistics Regiment 17, 1st Marine Logistics Group.
The H1N1 virus is widespread in 37 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But H1N1 is more of a 'media-hype' than anything, Perez explained. H1N1 is basically a new strain of virus that mutated from a previous strain. The name 'Swine Flu' was then given to this new strain of virus, since this type of virus was mutated from a virus commonly found in pigs.
"Because we gave it a name and called it the Swine Flu, the media kind of picked up on that, and it sort of got a little out of hand," said Perez, 27, from Dana Point, Calif. "But it's not necessarily more (harmful) than the normal flu. It's just another flu strain."
Due to it being a new strain, a different type of vaccine must be given in addition to the common flu vaccine, Perez clarified.
According to the World Organization for Animal Health, there is no evidence of infection in pigs, nor the possibility of human acquiring the H1N1 virus directly from pigs. The H1N1 virus is primarily a human disease, transmitted from human to human.
To prevent the virus from spreading, service members should stay home or go to the clinic if they're sick, Perez said. Also, avoid being around those who are sick, and always cover the mouth and nose up when coughing and sneezing. Specifically, service members should cough into their elbow or sleeve and not on their hands, since they could touch other objects and spread the flu virus onto that surface for other people to pick up. But the best thing service members can do to prevent them from getting sick is to get vaccinated.
"We have the vaccine; it comes in a shot, which is a dead virus," said Perez. "Then we've got a mist, the intranasal vaccine, which is a weakened live virus that's designed not to cause the flu."
Both methods are effective in building an immune response in the body, she explained. "However, since it's a live virus, FluMist generally results in a stronger immune response in the body. So that's the preferred method."
FluMist is only available for the seasonal flu. For H1N1, shot is the only method available at the local clinics.
Perez advised that everyone should get vaccinated, as it is more dangerous getting the flu than getting the vaccine.
Seasonal flu vaccines are available now, and vaccines for the H1N1 virus are expected to be available to active duty service members at their organizational aid stations by early November.