Trucker MD
Is it the Swine Flu or Novel H1N1?
New flue virus brings new concerns about winter ailments

By Dr. John McElligott


It is time to be concerned about the upcoming flu season, which may be earlier than usual this year. This new virus is now more commonly referred as the Novel H1N1 rather than as the Swine Flu. I am still puzzled as to the addition of “Novel.”

By the time you read this, the vaccine approved for H1N1 should be on hand, but that availability was still late in the season (mid-October). For that reason, the experts are raising the yellow flag of caution. The vaccine may not be available to the general trucking population until the end of the year, as several others have been identified by the experts as being at higher risk and in need of early vaccination.

However many drivers fall into the high-risk categories: age greater than 60, high blood pressure, lung disease, heart disease and diabetes, just to name a few.

History has recorded pandemics all over the world. These outbreaks have the potential of killing tens of thousands of people. Interestingly, they tend to go away as fast as they appeared, leaving only those infected survivors having antibody protection – in other words, those who were vaccinated by their own body’s immune system.

Here are some observations the experts have made over the past year about H1N1:

  1. It seems to be confined more to younger individuals – from infants to individuals in their 30s and 40s. The elderly seem to be less affected.
  2. It causes mild symptoms of fatigue, with or without fever.
  3. Clusters of cases have been reported in rural areas.
  4. Reported cases with no fever mean infrared screening will be ineffective at airport and train terminals.
  5. It has marked differences in virility, which means most cases are very mild, but in others there may be a rapid progression to loss of one’s life.

Key facts that you need to consider:

  1. By the time you read this, a specific H1N1 vaccine should be available. The initial advice was that two doses several weeks apart were required. That’s now been changed to one.
  2. The vaccine for H1N1 will not include the annual flu shot.
  3. Regular flu shots are currently available, so contact your health care provider. Get the regular vaccine now. Don’t wait.
  4. It is currently unknown whether or not the H1N1 vaccine has side effects not seen in the regular vaccine.
  5. Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare neurological illness with ascending paralysis, should not be more prevalent. GBS is seen in all vaccines and has an incidence of 1 in a million vaccinations.
  6. Hygiene is the one thing that can stop the virus. The best way to improve hygiene is through good hand washing.

The H1N1 symptoms are the same as the regular flu, but be alert for atypical symptoms such as fatigue and unexplained weakness.

Treatment is usually based on severity of symptoms. Most cases can be treated without medications. If caught early, antiviral drugs can be prescribed. The contagious period is 5-7 days before symptoms start. One sick driver can infect up to 100 other folks a day.

Remember, “America Travels by Truck,” and we need all of our professional drivers healthy to keep our country healthy.  LL

Editor’s note: John McElligott is an M.D. and Fellow of the American College of Physicians. Jeff Heinrich, who will serve as the column’s medical editor, has a Doctor of Education degree and PA-C, which means Physician Assistant, Certified.