Where to turn for H1N1 information

Physicians need to be armed with facts to calm patient fears and ensure proper treatment and vaccination.

Posted Nov. 2, 2009.

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A quick look online -- or even at your e-mail inbox or a TV talk show -- can provide all sorts of "facts" about the vaccine for influenza A(H1N1) that would make anyone much more afraid of getting vaccinated than of getting sick.

There's the one about how the vaccine was developed as an intentional killer, because the earth can't feed its billions of people and authorities needed to figure out a way to thin the herd. Some say the vaccine was not developed to cause death, but it's so toxic it will anyway. (Those who espouse that view call the vaccine the "kill shot.")

Another scare circulating is that the vaccine is suspect because it's being paid for and distributed by the government, and you can't trust the government. Add to those the less-over-the-top attacks by any number of skeptics spreading enough seeds of doubt and the result is many people wondering if they should just skip the shot.

In light of all that, it is hardly surprising that a study released Oct. 2 by the Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that only 40% of adults were "absolutely certain" they would get the H1N1 vaccine for themselves. Only 51% of parents were "absolutely certain" they would get the vaccine for their children.

Fortunately, there are some resources physicians can use to find the latest credible information on H1N1 -- and confidently handle patients' questions and concerns about the illness and the vaccine.

The American Medical Association recommends four Web sites for up-to-the-minute news and information on H1N1:

  • The AMA's 2009 H1N1 Influenza Information site (link).
  • Prevent Influenza Now!, sponsored by the National Influenza Vaccine Summit, a joint venture of the AMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (link).
  • Flu.gov, the official flu-related Web site of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (link).
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2009 H1N1 Flu site (link).

The AMA site is the most physician-specific, with clinical information and webinars tailored to their needs. It also has information on new Current Procedural Terminology codes that practices should use for delivering H1N1-related services.

The AMA site also offers resources for patients, including a poster with quick facts on the illness and vaccine. The poster can be downloaded, printed and displayed in your office or waiting room.

All the sites the AMA recommends contain advice on what doctors should be doing right now in relation to H1N1. Among the advice:

  • Register with your county's public health department to make sure you get the vaccine.
  • Start by giving it to your highest-risk patients: pregnant women, children, young adults and anyone with a compromised immune system.
  • Strongly consider taking the vaccine yourself. The AMA recommends that doctors and their staffs take the vaccine.
  • Share information from the recommended Web sites with your patients to help assure them that, despite what they might have heard elsewhere, the H1N1 vaccine has been tested and has been found as safe as seasonal flu vaccine.
  • If you show any signs of the illness, stay home and away from patients. And make sure your staff follows that sound policy as well.

Sensible guidance like this is only a click or two away. Unfortunately, so are rants and rumors about H1N1 vaccination. The four sites listed here will provide dependable help for physicians and patients to make sense of how to respond to the H1N1 threat.

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