Flu Facts: Staying Healthy this Flu Season
By: Yvonne Klemets Wright
Yvonne is a new contributor to the Chester County Moms blog. She is a Chester County wife, mother of two girls, and freelance writer and independent communications consultant. As a former journalist, she enjoys reading and writing about the challenges of working mothers and the issues that surround them. A native of Connecticut, Yvonne has lived and worked in several cities including New York and Philadelphia, but has called Chester County home since 2001.
As kids head back to school, parents like me are becoming more concerned with the risks of the H1N1 influenza, also known as “swine flu,” and are seeking answers about how to keep our kids healthy. The good news is that simple precautions will help reduce the likelihood that you and your children become infected with the virus. And in the unfortunate event that swine flu pays a visit, health experts reassure us that swine flu does not appear to be causing illness that is significantly more severe than typical seasonal flu for most healthy people.
The Truth about The Flu
The heightened worry over H1N1 is particularly acute experts say because “it’s new and the data we have are not well established.” Even so, experts stresses that while concern is warranted, there is no reason to panic. It is just another type of flu virus, just like that causes our typical seasonal flu symptoms. The big difference is that the H1N1 virus new and most of us don’t have any immunity to it. That is what made it so easy for it to become a pandemic virus because it could easily spread from person-to-person.
Who’s at Risk?
Although health experts suggest that children be vaccinated this flu season for both the seasonal flu and against the H1N1 virus, they stress that, as in any flu season, certain groups should take special precautions to avoid getting sick. Those at the highest risk of serious, flu-related complications from H1N1 could include:
people with chronic medical problems, such as chronic lung disease, like asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and immunosuppression
children and adults with obesity
If you fall into one of these categories, talk to your doctor about getting vaccinated against both seasonal and H1N1 influenza viruses as soon as these vaccines become available. At this time, H1N1 vaccines are expected to be available in mid-to-late October. Check with your doctor or the Centers for Disease Control www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu for updates.
Weighing the Risks: Vaccination vs. Virus
People who feel vulnerable to infection may be reassured that a study conducted by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle indicates that an aggressive vaccination campaign that begins with children and aims to vaccinate 70% of the population will keep H1N1 under control.
Keep in mind that some people cannot be vaccinated due to allergies or other health problems. Others are concerned that the H1N1 vaccine is relatively untested. If you have allergies, are managing serious health problems, or have concerns about the risks of trying untested medicine, talk to your doctor about whether a vaccine is right for you.
What are the signs and symptoms of this virus in people?
The symptoms of 2009 H1N1 flu virus in people include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting.
Reduce the Spread of the Flu
To reduce the risk of H1N1 and other infections:
• Wash your hands often—and take your time. Use regular soap with warm water, and wash for 20 full seconds. (About the time it takes to sing the Alphabet Song.) Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizers to use in a pinch and keep your favorite hand lotion near the hand-washing stations in your house to avoid drying out your skin.
• Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes
• Boost your immune system. Support your basic health by making sure to get enough sleep; getting plenty of water, fruits, and vegetables; avoiding sugar and alcohol binges, and taking supportive supplements such as vitamin C (100 to 1,000 mg per day)
Oh No! You’ve Got the Flu. Now What to Do?
If you or your family members are infected, take precautions to manage the illness and limit the chances you spread infection to others.
• Call immediately. If you think you have the flu, call your doctor right away. Antiviral medications work best when taken within one to two days of first having symptoms. In children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
Fast breathing or trouble breathing
Bluish or gray skin color
Not drinking enough fluids
Severe or persistent vomiting
Not waking up or not interacting
Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
• Keep the right medications on hand. Keep fever-reducing medication on hand
• Practice basic flu combat. Make sure you get enough sleep, keep healthy comfort foods on hand (avoid sugar and excessively fatty foods), and drink plenty of water.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your elbow, to prevent contaminating your hands and spreading the germs to other surfaces you touch.
• Give it 24. Wait a full 24 hours after fever subsides (without the use of fever-reducing medication) to go back to work or school.
You can find more information about the H1N1 virus at http://www.cdc.gov/H1N1flu/qa.htm