We have seasonal influenza every winter, but the novel H1N1 Influenza (swine flu) is a new virus, so few people have immunity against it.
I urge everyone to take extra steps to protect themselves from getting or spreading the flu.
H1N1 influenza, like seasonal flu, is spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs on another person.
Symptoms include sudden onset of fever of more than 101 degrees, severe body aches, a cough, and a sore throat lasting three to four days. Coughing and fatigue might last a week or two. Some individuals also might have headaches, vomiting, and diarrhea.
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The sudden high fever and cough are key.
A person can start showing symptoms one to four days after being exposed to influenza. Sick people are contagious from the day before they have symptoms up to a week after – perhaps as long as three weeks in young children or people with immunity problems.
HOW TO KEEP FROM GETTING THE FLU
Influenza is spread from person to person. Coughing and sneezing release thousands of droplets, exposing persons within 3 to 6 feet to the virus. The best protection is to avoid exposure.
Examples of things you can do:
1. Avoid people who are ill.
2. Stay more than 3 feet away from someone who might be sick.
3. Wash your hands frequently.
If you are among a group at high risk of severe illness due to influenza, your health care provider can prescribe medicine that may prevent you from getting the flu after exposure.
The best protection for those at risk for complications from influenza is for people who are around them to be vaccinated. Individuals most at risk for severe illness or possible death due to influenza are those with pre-existing chronic diseases such as those that affect the heart, lungs, liver or kidneys; those who are immune compromised; those with neuromuscular disease, diabetes, or asthma; and those who smoke, especially those younger than age 50. Pregnant women and children younger than 5 also are at high risk.
IF YOU GET THE FLU
If you have influenza, stay home from work or school for at least 24 hours after your last fever (without taking medications or fever reliever). Always cover your cough and sneeze – cough into your elbow rather than your hands when caught without a tissue. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
Home care, rest, fluids, and cold and fever remedies work for symptom relief. Symptoms more severe than those described above – such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, severe dehydration, or changes in mental status – indicate the need to seek professional care.
THE NEW VACCINE
A new vaccine against pandemic H1N1 influenza is being manufactured and will be available in the fall of 2009. This vaccine is different from a regular seasonal flu shot.
For their individual protection, the recommendation for getting the H1N1 vaccine is strongest for: pregnant women, children age 6 months to 5 years, persons of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and persons who live with or care for persons at high risk. Health care workers and emergency responders also are a group that should receive the vaccine.
Vaccinating schoolchildren is the most effective way to decrease the spread of influenza, decrease illness and death among high-risk groups and protect the community.
DR. DIANA YU IS THE HEALTH OFFICER FOR THE THURSTON COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT, 412 LILLY ROAD N.E., OLYMPIA, 98506. FOR INFORMATION FROM THE HEALTH DEPARTMENT, CALL 360-786-5581.