Staffers prep for H1N1

More than 300 Capitol Hill staffers, officers or members of Congress are anticipated to contract the H1N1 virus this fall, according to Capitol officials.

In a briefing on the new virus strain, a staff physician with the Office of the Attending Physician told a room of about 50 Capitol Hill staffers on Monday that between 1 percent and 2 percent of the Capitol Hill population was projected to get the swine flu strain.

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About 10,000 people work in the House and about 6,500 work in the Senate.

The physician implored staffers who demonstrate flu-like symptoms — such as a fever, a runny nose or muscle aches — not to come to work for seven days or 24 hours after the fever subsides without the use of inflammation suppressants like Tylenol, whichever comes first.

The Office of the Attending Physician is expected to receive the H1N1 vaccine in several weeks, by mid-October, and it’s set to administer it first to pregnant women, children under 5 years old and health professionals.

Neither the Senate nor the House is planning to offer testing for members or staff. Instead they are planning to treat any flu-like symptoms as if it is the H1N1 strain, and are advising staff to consult their primary care physician. The Senate is planning to provide masks for senators and staff.

The physician advised staffers on Monday to get their seasonal flu shot, which are available from the Office of the Attending Physician, in addition to any H1N1 precautions they may take, because they are two different strains with separate treatments.

About 36,000 people die from flu-related causes each year, and anywhere between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population contract the seasonal flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The Office of the Attending Physician is planning to hold at least two more meetings for staff to ask flu-related questions: Friday at 8 a.m. and again at 2:30 p.m. in the Congressional Meeting Room North in the Capitol Vistor Center.