Flu season: It's here, what should I do?

Every year in the United States, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and about 36,000 people die from flu related illnesses. This year, Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation (TCRHCC) has some very special services to help make it easier for you and your family to get a flu shot to protect yourself from influenza. These include the "flu shot clinic" at the Tuba City hospital and school based shots for students and staff.

Read on to learn more about flu, and how to protect yourself this flu season.

What is the "flu?"

The "flu" is an infection caused by the influenza virus. This is usually an illness of the nose, throat and lungs. It comes every year, usually from December to March. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death especially in people who are elderly, very young, or have other illnesses. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot each fall.

In 2009-2010, a new and very different flu virus (called H1N1) spread worldwide causing the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. During the 2010-2011 flu season, it is expected that the H1N1 virus to cause illness again along with other influenza viruses. The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against 2009 H1N1 and two other influenza viruses.

How flu spreads

Flu viruses spread by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from person to person, or sometimes when a person touches a surface that has recently been coughed or sneezed on by someone with the flu and then they touch their own eyes, nose or mouth . It is very contagious, and people can get others sick even one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick.

That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

Symptoms of flu include:

• fever (usually high)

• headache

• extreme tiredness

• dry cough

• sore throat

• runny or stuffy nose

• muscle aches

• stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

The flu often feels different than a "common cold" because of the high fever and body aches, especially the first 2-3 days.

Certain people are at higher risk than others of getting severe flu infections or complications. These include older people, young children, pregnant women and those with certain health conditions such as lung diseases including asthma, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

Complications of flu can include lung infection, dehydration, and worsening of other medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. People who are more likely to get flu complications should talk to a health care provider about whether they need to be examined if they get flu symptoms this season.

What to do if you get the flu

If you get sick with flu-like symptoms this season, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care if you need it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine like Tylenol or ibuprofen).

Most people with seasonal flu or H1N1 (swine flu) have had mild illness and have not needed medical care or antiviral drugs. Things you can do while you are sick include:

• Stay home so you do not get other people sick

• Rest

• Drink plenty of liquids

• Avoid using alcohol and tobacco

• Take medicines to relieve the fever, headaches, and muscle aches

• Cover your cough - cough into your sleeve or a tissue

• Wash your hands and encourage those around you to wash their hands often.

The flu is caused by a virus, so antibiotics don't work to cure it. While there are "antiviral" medicines that can work against some kinds of flu, the best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot each fall, before flu season, to stay away from other sick people (and stay home if you think you have the flu), and wash your hands.

If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed.

If you become ill and experience any of the following emergency warning signs, you should get medical care right away.

Emergency warning signs in children:

• Fast breathing or trouble breathing

• Bluish skin color

• Not drinking enough fluids

• 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

• Fever with a rash

Emergency warning signs in adults:

• Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

• Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

• Sudden dizziness

• Confusion

• Severe or persistent vomiting

• Flu like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Prevent the flu: Get vaccinated

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a seasonal flu shot each fall. Early fall is the best time to get vaccinated, but getting vaccinated in December or even later can still be helpful. It takes about two weeks after receiving the flu shot for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu virus. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. That's why it's better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the flu season really gets under way.

Also, the flu shot has to be given every year- this is because the kinds of flu viruses in our community change every year, and each one needs a different vaccine. Unlike other vaccines (like measles, mumps, hepatitis) where you may be protected for life after your childhood shots, you must get a new flu shot every fall if you want to be protected.

Who should get vaccinated for seasonal flu?

All persons aged 6 months and older should be vaccinated annually.

Where can I get a seasonal flu shot?

In Tuba City, there is a special clinic at the hospital for patients who only want a flu shot - you do not need an appointment. Please call (928)283-2974 for updated information.

TCRHCC is also working with the local schools to offer school based flu shots for students and staff. Your student should receive information on dates for their school, and a consent form and patient registration form are required for all students who will get their shot at school.

What are other steps that can be taken to prevent the flu?

There are other good health habits that can help prevent the flu. These are:

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

• If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Or cough and sneeze into your elbow if you will not be able to immediately wash your hands. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

• Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

• Consider carrying some alcohol based hand sanitizer with you if you may not be able to get to a sink to wash your hands.

For more information about the flu and the TCRHCC flu shot program, contact the Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation at (928) 283-2974.

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