SEASONAL FLU AWARENESS AND PREVENTION

Written by Carol Payton, RN, LAFD EMS Educator What is the Seasonal Flu? The seasonal flu, also called influenza is a contagious respiratory illness. There are several forms of the influenza virus that infect the nose, throat and lungs. One form, which dominated the flu season last year, was the H1N1 influenza virus. What are the signs and symptoms? Signs and symptoms may be mild to severe, and in some, may lead to death. Signs and symptoms may include: fever with or without chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue or a sense of exceptional tiredness, and some may develop vomiting and diarrhea. One need not develop all of these symptoms to have the influenza illness. In fact it is important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever. How is the flu spread? The influenza (flu) virus is spread by droplets, made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby. Occasionally, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their mouth, eyes, or possibly their nose. It is important to remember that the virus can live on inanimate objects for 2-8 hours. This is a good reason to wipe down surfaces, such as medical equipment, office telephones, and work out equipment, before and after use. How can we prevent the spread of the ‘flu’? The CDC recommends a three-step approach to fighting the flu: 1. Get vaccinated 2. Stop the spread of germs 3. Take anti-viral medications if prescribed All persons 6 months of age or older should get the flu vaccine. It is especially important for people at higher risk for influenza and their close contacts to be vaccinated, such as healthcare workers and those in close contact with children

under the age of 6 months. Each year scientists try to match the viruses in the vaccine to those most likely to cause the flu that year. This year’s ‘flu shot’ consists of 3 vaccine viruses, including H1N1. There are two types of influenza vaccine. The inactivated (killed) vaccine, which is given by injection and the live attenuated (weakened) vaccine, given as a nasal spray. The regular seasonal ‘flu shot’ is given intramuscularly (usually into the upper arm muscle). It is approved for people 6 months of age and older, including pregnant women. Other forms of this vaccination may contain thimerosol as a preservative. Thimerosol produces a type of mercury during metabolization; therefore sensitive persons and pregnant women should not receive the vaccine with this preparation. A high dose inactivated vaccine may be available at some locations for people 65 years of age and older. Rarely, an intradermal (just under the skin) version of the vaccine may be offered by a physician. The live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (also called the “LAIV” vaccine) contains the live virus, but does not cause the flu. This form is approved for persons between the ages of 2 and 49, who are not pregnant. It takes about 2 weeks, after vaccination, to develop antibodies that protect against the influenza virus infection. Germs are stopped by taking the same common sense approach to prevent the spread of most contagious illnesses that our moms taught us long ago. Wash your hands frequently and use the hand sanitizers, when provided. Do not drink from another’s cup or eat another’s partially eaten food. Use respiratory etiquette. This means cover your mouth if you sneeze or cough. If you do get sick, stay home. If you are feverish do not go out (i.e. doctors appointments). The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Remember that you may be contagious, before you know you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming ill. Young children may be able to infect others for an even longer period of time. Antiviral medications are rarely prescribed to the very sick, or persons at high risk for complications once sick with flu. Most healthy adults do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs, however if prescribed, take them as directed. Do not stop when you ‘feel better’. The LAFD wants to advise that you should not be fearful, merely smart, regarding the flu season and to contact your physician if you have any concerns.

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