Resource Center Dallas associate executive director urges everyone with HIV to get both flu vaccines
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has posted a warning for those with HIV concerning H1N1 influenza, saying they “would be expected to present with typical acute respiratory illness and fever or feverishness, headache and muscle aches.”
HIV experts would expect the illness in persons with low CD4 cell counts to progress rapidly and be complicated by secondary bacterial infections including pneumonia, according to the CDC warning.
However, Dr. Gary Sinclair, the director of the AIDS clinic at Parkland Hospital, said that he does not believe the H1N1 virus is a cause for panic. He said that the virus is very contagious but in most cases fairly mild.
Sinclair said that on average, flu kills 50,000 people a year and that he expects this strain of flu to kill fewer people than average.
But Bret Camp at the Nelson-Tebedo Health Resource Center warned, “People with HIV need to make it a high priority” to get the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines once available.
The clinic has not received its allocations of the seasonal or H1N1 flu vaccine. In Oak Lawn, both Kroger and Walgreens have been offering seasonal flu vaccines, although both have temporarily run out.
The H1N1 vaccine comes in two forms. One is a spray mist that is recommended as the preferred form for children and can be taken by people younger than 50 and not pregnant. However, those with a compromised immune system or who are HIV positive should not take the mist. That form is made with an attenuated, or altered live, virus.
People who are HIV positive should wait for the injected vaccine.
Camp said that priorities in distributing the vaccine have shifted. Healthcare workers at larger facilities have received their vaccines, but he said he has not received any for those who work at Nelson-Tebedo.
Right-wing talk radio and 24-hour cable news outlets have been questioning the safety of the H1N1 vaccine that has been rushed to market.
Sinclair dismissed those criticisms. He said the H1N1 as well as the seasonal vaccines are the same flu vaccines that have been given for years. He said that to make the vaccine effective against a particular strain of the virus, all that is changed are several lines of genetic code to match a flu strain.
Sinclair said that if someone has not had a reaction to the flu vaccine in the past, there should be no reaction to this year’s vaccine.
While the CDC maintains its warning for persons with HIV, most deaths that have occurred so far have been among children with underlying health problems and pregnant women.
Two categories that are usually hardest hit by flu virus, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, have not been disproportionately affected so far.
However, the CDC warns, “Persons with HIV infection should remain vigilant for the signs and symptoms of influenza.”
The more common flu medications Tamiflu and Relenza seem to work with H1N1 but the drugs Symmetrel and Flumadine do not. These antiviral drugs work best when taken within two days of the onset of symptoms.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 23, 2009.