With fears of H1N1 sweeping across the nation and recent deaths attributed to the virus, the sick are flooding into hospitals and clinics as soon as symptoms of the illness emerge. In light of the concern, one local healthcare professional is hoping a few facts will help lessen those fears.   

A trip to the doctor’s office and a quick swab of a patient’s nasal passage or throat will allow doctors to determine if individuals are infected with Influenza A, but not confirm if the patient has H1N1.

Tammy Hudson, director of laboratory services at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Stephenville, said the H1N1 is a subtype of Influenza A. A positive type A result does not mean the patient is infected with the H1N1 virus.

“The state is telling us that if they are confirmed with type A, it is most likely H1N1 because that is the most common subtype present this year,” Hudson said. 

Hudson, who has served as director of lab services for 10 years and has a bachelor’s degree in medical technology and a master’s in biology, said the hospital is part of the surveillance network for the Texas Department of Health and sends two Influenza A positive specimens per week to be sub-typed. The specimens are sent in from across the state so the virus can be monitored.

“All the hospitals in the network send a weekly report on the number of people seen with flu-like illnesses, the number of flu tests performed and the number of positives for A or B type,” Hudson said.

She also said about 25 percent of the tests performed last week in the lab were positive for Influenza A, which means that 75 percent of the people with symptoms tested negative for H1N1. 

But Hudson also said on the state level, the number of type A cases has risen over the last year.

“For the same week last year, there were around 200 cases reported, and last week there were 2,000 in Texas,” Hudson said. 

The current Center for Disease Control guidelines recommend testing only hospitalized patients, those who have other health problems and children under the age of five.

While a number of results have shown to be type A, the hospital has received no positives results following H1N1 testing.

“I have not received any confirmed results from the state,” Hudson said. “And I am not aware of any doctor’s office that can perform the confirmation for H1N1. Most are performing a test for influenza virus that detects the A or B types only.”

The best advice Hudson can offer are the same steps that should be followed during the typical flu season.

“Patients with flu-like symptoms should see their personal physician and use good hand hygiene,” Hudson said.