Flu Season: It's Here, What Should I Do?
Every year in the U.S., 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 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 clinics at TCRHCC 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 to our communities 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.
This flu season, however, there is a new flu virus called H1N1 or "swine flu." This flu may cause a lot more people to get sick than during a regular flu season. There have been ongoing cases of H1N1 virus since April. Most of the people who get the H1N1 flu have the same symptoms as people who get the regular seasonal flu. However, some people have had breathing problems, pneumonia, and other complications. As a new virus, the H1N1 is more likely to infect otherwise healthy people less than 65 years old, so we are seeing a lot of people with this infection already this year.
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 touches 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 even know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
Symptoms of flu include:
fever (usually high)
runny or stuffy nose
stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea also can occur but are more common in children than adults
The flu often feels different than a regular "common cold" because of the high fever and lots of body aches, especially the first two to three 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 you should 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 2009 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
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 (like penicillin) 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 are at high risk for flu, 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, 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
Severe or persistent vomiting
Flu like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Preventing 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.
Later this month, limited doses of the first 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine will be released to the public. Because there are limited supplies of this vaccine, health care facilities will be targeting specific high risk populations to get the vaccine first. TCRHCC will be sending out notices to eligible patients as we receive the vaccine throughout the next few months.
Who should get vaccinated for seasonal flu?
Almost everyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting seasonal flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year.
People who should get vaccinated each year are:
1) People at high risk for complications from seasonal flu:
All adults 50 years and older;
People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
Adults and children 6 months and older with chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or a weakened immune system (including immune system problems caused by medicines, like steroids, or by infection with HIV/AIDS);
Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season;
People with any condition that makes it hard to breathe or swallow, such as brain injury or disease, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, or other nerve or muscle disorders.
2) Other people recommended to receive seasonal flu vaccine:
All children ages 6 months to 18 years
People who can give flu to others at high risk for complications. Any person in close contact with someone in a high-risk group should get vaccinated. This includes all health-care workers, household members and out-of-home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age, household family members of patients with asthma, diabetes, kidney disease and a weakened immune system, and household members of people 50 years and older.
Where can I get a seasonal flu shot?
Currently, TCRHCC has temporarily run out of adult flu vaccine. When another supply is received, the flu shot clinic at TCRHCC will restart. This is a special clinic for patients who only want a flu shot - you do not need an appointment. Please call TCRHCC at (928)283-2501 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) 283-2501.