Oct 27, 2009

H1N1 Flu Facts, Prevention and Advice

The primary symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.
By Angil Tarach
Alzheimer's Reading Room

The H1N1 flu is high on the ranks of national concern particularly since the President declared a health emergency. I know the importance of education, in particular, prevention.

Prior to opening Visiting Angels in 2002, I worked as an Infection Control Coordinator for the State of Michigan.

Sometimes the media can over exaggerate the truth of the flu facts, so it’s important to know where to find the correct information. There are 3 primary organizations that monitor the spread and provide education on prevention and treatment, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control (APIC).
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This quick quiz will test your base knowledge about the flu.

Influenza is a viral respiratory infection, not a gastrointestinal infection. I have heard more people than I can count say they have the flu when their only symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea.

Although certain flu viruses may include those symptoms, the primary symptoms of the flu are fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue.

I often describe the flu as a nasty cold, with your skin hurting. This simple explanation seems to help people understand the difference between a cold and the flu.

Understand the H1N1 flu (Swine Flu) symptoms are the same as the seasonal flu. You would only know you have the H1N1 flu if you were tested for the virus.

The CDC and WHO have been reporting on the seasonal flu and H1N1 flu, otherwise known as the Swine Flu, and have declared a pandemic.

The H1N1 is different than the typical seasonal flu because of the viral makeup. It has combined genes from pigs, bird (avian), and humans, which originated in Europe and Asia. The more complicated the gene makeup, the more factors that have to go into developing an effective vaccine.

A pandemic is a worldwide epidemic. The reason for so much concern is the devastation that occurs with a worldwide flu outbreak.

The CDC and WHO have been discussing and preparing for a pandemic for years. There have been 3 previous pandemics since 1900, and a few pandemic threats. The pandemics that occurred were the Spanish flu in 1918, the Asian flu in 1957, and the Hong Kong flu of 1968.

We are currently experiencing a pandemic with the H1N1 flu. A typical seasonal flu in the US will cause approximately 36,000 death a year. Pandemics can cause millions of deaths. The CDC provides a map called FluView, which shows the national flu activity, state by state, week by week, throughout flu season.

CDC Flu View Map Widget. Flash Player 9 is required.

Pandemics can be so severe that most businesses would close, emergency rooms would shut down, and millions would die.

The important thing to note is that prevention is the key to preventing this crisis. We don’t need to panic; we just need to strictly follow precautions to prevent such a crisis.

Flu vaccines are still the number one way to prevent flu related death. The second biggest prevention is hand washing, which also includes alcohol based hand gels. Third is to stay home if you are ill.

According to the CDC, you should remain home at least 24 hours after the fever is gone.

Personally, my immune system is compromised because of my chronic illnesses. I am limiting my time in public, and use alcohol based hand gel throughout my time in public settings. I keep it in my purse, my car, and my home. I can’t emphasize enough how important this simple act is in preventing colds and flu.

Keep in mind the surfaces you touch. How many others have touched those same surfaces before you? When shopping, use the disinfectant wipes available to clean the shopping cart handle. Use hand gel when leaving any public place. Keep mindful to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth when out in public. Flu virus droplets that are on a surface that you touch and then introduce into your eyes, nose or mouth is the way you become sick.

There are categories of people at risk. Those include
  • small children
  • pregnant women
  • those with compromised immune systems,
  • and the elderly.
People with respiratory and heart conditions should be especially careful. Facilities where a large amount of people reside or gather, like long term care facilities, need to be especially cautious.

The CDC has classified high risk categories to obtain the H1N1 vaccine at this time. Because of the lack of vaccine available at this time, only high risk populations can receive the vaccine currently. The high risk categories include
  • pregnant women
  • people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age
  • health care and emergency medical services personnel with direct patient contact
  • children 6 months through 4 years of age
  • and children 5 through 18 years of age who have chronic medical conditions.
I believe the elderly and all adults who have chronic illnesses or respiratory conditions should have been listed in the high risk category, but they have not been.

I anticipate the subsequent risk groups that will be included in getting the next round of vaccines will include the elderly and chronically sick adults, as more vaccine becomes available.

If you are experiencing flu symptoms, do not go to a long term care facility into a senior’s home. Seniors can easily contract the flu. Be mindful of persons with Alzheimer’s and dementia that you assist and care for. Not only do you need to follow the precautions for yourself, but you need to make sure their hands are frequently, and thoroughly washed or cleansed with hand gel.

If you fall into any of the at-risk categories in particular, ask family and friends who are ill to refrain from coming to visit. Some see that as being rude, but if a family member or friend doesn’t have enough sense to stay home ill, you have no recourse but to protect your health, and do your part in keeping this pandemic from a worsening state.

I hope we can all do our part to prevent the devastation of a pandemic, by following these simple actions.

For further information,
I hope we can all do our part to prevent further devastation in this pandemic, by following these simple actions.
For everything you ever wanted to know about the flu
2009 H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu)
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Angil Tarach --The Angel Among US
Angil Tarach (RN GCM) is a nationally known expert in senior care and advocacy. With over 30 years of experience, Angil brings a wealth of knowledge and compassion to the Alzheimer's Reading Room. Angil is also the owner of Visiting Angels in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  Angil writes about Caregiving, Health Care, and issues that affect seniors for the Alzheimer's Reading Room.

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