News

November 20, 2009

H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) Information

 

SWINE FLU UPDATE: On June 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) raised its alert level for the H1N1 flu (swine flu) to Phase 6. This makes the swine flu a full-scale pandemic - the first since 1968.

According to WHO, there have been approximately 277,000 cases of H1N1 flu and 3,205 deaths worldwide. In the United States, the H1N1 flu has infected more than 43,000 people in all 50 states and has caused at least 590 deaths.

As of Aug. 2, the WHO is advising countries in the northern hemisphere of the world to prepare for a second wave of pandemic spread. In the United States, regional increases in influenza activity are being reported, most notably in the southeastern states. The pandemic will persist in the coming months as the virus continues to move through at-risk populations.

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What is H1N1 flu (swine flu)?

According to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH), H1N1 flu is a respiratory disease, usually found in pigs, caused by type A influenza viruses. Before this year, people did not normally get H1N1 flu, but human infections occasionally happened -- most commonly in people who are around pigs.

In the spring of 2009, cases of human infection with H1N1 influenza A viruses were first reported in Southern California and near San Antonio, Texas. By late April, the CDC determined that this swine influenza A (H1N1) virus was contagious and was spreading from human to human. Cases began to appear in several other states and in countries around the world.

  • Learn more about H1N1 flu at the CDC's special website.
  • An updated case count of confirmed H1N1 flu infections in the United States is kept at http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/investigation.htm.
  • More web links and phone numbers for information are listed near the bottom of this page.
  • Healthcare Providers: Please monitor this page and watch for messages on iLinkBlue as the situation changes.
  • Producers: Watch this page for additional information or call your Regional Office if you have questions.

How does this affect you?

Unless you or a family member is at high risk for getting the flu, take everyday precautions for preventing illness and the spread of germs. Wash hands frequently, avoid contact with those who are sick, and stay home if you become sick in order to limit further spread of the disease.

At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana, we will continue to monitor this ongoing situation closely, and we will update this page if the situation becomes more urgent.

How is Blue Cross preparing?

Blue Cross has a pandemic plan in place that will allow us to continue to function and pay claims, even in a crisis. We are enacting the steps in this plan according to the World Health Organization's alert levels and guidance from state and federal officials. We are closely monitoring the situation and will post more detailed information as needed.

It is important for members to know that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana is financially strong and stable, with a reserves fund in place to help protect our policyholders from the effects of emergencies like this one.

How can you prepare your business for a pandemic?

A flu pandemic could hit businesses hard, especially small businesses that can't afford to have their employees out sick. Employers should plan ahead now in case the H1N1 flu becomes more widespread this fall, as many experts predict.

Use this pandemic planning checklist to prepare for an H1N1 flu outbreak or other emergency.

The checklist will help you:

  • Plan for the impact of a pandemic on your business
  • Plan for the impact of a pandemic on your employees and customers
  • Establish policies to be implemented during a pandemic
  • Allocate resources to protect your employees and customers during a pandemic
  • Communicate to and educate your employees
  • Coordinate with external organizations and help your community

How else can you prepare and keep your employees safe?
Stay current on the latest news regarding the spread of the H1N1 virus in your area. Educate your employees about how to stay well. You can find help, planning guides and prevention information using resources from the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services.


What can you do to protect yourself from getting sick?

At this time, the federal government is recommending that all Americans follow everyday steps to protect your health:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Germs are spread this way.
  • Practice other good health habits: Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
  • If you do get sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and avoid contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

Who should seek medical care?

According to the DHH, for most patients, there is no need for medical evaluation or specialized testing of mild illness. If you are only mildly ill with the flu, testing and antiviral treatments will not have much impact. According to the DHH, "Most cases [of H1N1 flu] are relatively mild, and managed by otherwise healthy people at home. Nationwide, the majority of people who have H1N1 influenza at this time recover without special medical treatment of any kind."

The CDC and DHH do recommend that those in high-risk categories seek testing and treatment as originally suggested. This applies to hospitalized patients with confirmed or suspected H1N1, or those patients who are at higher risk for seasonal influenza complications, including children under 5 years old (especially those under 2 years old), adults 65 years of age and older and people with the following conditions:

  • Chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular (except hypertension), renal, hepatic, hematological (including sickle cell disease), neurologic, neuromuscular or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus
  • Immunosuppression, including that caused by medications or by HIV
  • Pregnant women
  • People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities


What should you do if you get sick?

If you become ill with influenza-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea, and either are in a high-risk category or have severe symptoms, you may want to contact your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will determine whether you need influenza testing or treatment.

If you are sick, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness to others. The CDC says people with H1N1 flu virus infection should be considered potentially contagious as long as they are symptomatic and possibly for up to seven days following illness onset. Children, especially younger children, might be contagious for longer periods. If you are sick with a confirmed or suspected case of H1N1 flu, the CDC recommends that you stay at home for at least the first seven days after your illness began except to seek medical care.

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 skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • 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
  • Fever with a rash

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
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting


Are there medicines to treat swine flu?


The CDC recommends the use of oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (brand name Relenza®) for the treatment and/or prevention of these H1N1 flu viruses. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaler) 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 help you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started soon after getting sick (within two days of symptoms).

Important: Ask your healthcare provider before taking any medications for the flu. This will help to avoid possibly harmful interactions with other drugs, supplements or over-the-counter medicines you take.



How can you get the H1N1 vaccine?

According to the CDC, scientists expect both 2009 H1N1 (swine) flu and the regular seasonal flu to cause more people to get sick this year than during a regular flu season. More hospital stays and deaths may also occur.

Vaccines are the most important tool we have for preventing influenza. Both the seasonal flu and H1N1 (swine) flu vaccinations are now available. The CDC has recommended that certain high-risk groups of people receive the 2009 H1N1 vaccine first, including:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age
  • Healthcare and emergency medical services personnel
  • Persons between the ages of 6 months and 24 years
  • People ages 25 through 64 years who have chronic health disorders or compromised immune systems

Your doctor can determine if you are at high risk for the flu and in need of a vaccination.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana will cover the administration of H1N1 (swine) flu and seasonal flu vaccinations for its members. All individual members and fully insured group members will receive full coverage for flu shots administered by a network physician or at a network retail pharmacy. Members will pay no copayment, coinsurance or deductible for this benefit.

Please see your benefits booklet or call Blue Cross Customer Service for details about vaccination coverage under your specific policy.

What should you do if your doctor gives you a prescription for a flu medication?


BCBSLA realizes the importance of being able to quickly fill your prescription when you have the flu. If your plan includes prescription coverage, medications prescribed by your doctor for the flu will be covered like any other prescription drug under your benefit plan. At this time, no authorization is required to prior to the pharmacy filling your prescription. Your plan may have certain limits/allowances to the amount of the medication you will be able to fill with one prescription. However, these limits allow for a complete course of treatment.

For additional coverage information or prescription limits, please check your specific benefit plan for more details regarding your eligibility.



Additional resources

Knowing the facts is the best preparation. Reliable information on H1N1 flu (swine flu) and the current outbreak is available from the following agencies and their websites:

Contacting Blue Cross