Flu season approaches
Special to The Review from Dr. Ian Suzelis
With cooler temperatures and shorter days, it won't be long before flu season is upon us. Flu season in Ohio typically begins in October and runs through March or April. Use the following information to keep you and your loved ones healthy this year.
It is predicted the H1N1 virus, commonly known as "swine flu" because it closely resembles a virus pigs get, will circulate throughout the country, along with other seasonal flu viruses this year. H1N1 was first recognized in the United States during a flu pandemic in 2009. It has since become a regular seasonal flu virus. Ohio has already had about 100 confirmed cases of H1N1 "swine flu," and flu season is just beginning.
You can not get H1N1 virus "swine flu" from eating pork, bacon or other pig by-products. H1N1 is spread the same way as the common cold, by breathing in airborne droplets or by touching an object (i.e. doorknob or remote) that has been contaminated after an infected person coughs or sneezes, and then touching your own eyes, mouth or nose.
The most common symptoms of H1N1 "swine flu" include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms typically develop one to three days after exposure to the virus and last for about eight days.
Since H1N1 "swine flu" symptoms are similar to those of other flu viruses, it is not possible to know, based off symptoms alone, if you have swine flu. Health care professionals may offer a rapid flu test, however, be aware that a negative result doesn't mean you don't have the flu. Test accuracy depends on the quality of the test, the sample collection method and the amount of the virus a person has at the time of testing.
Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza to reduce the severity of symptoms, but like other seasonal viruses, the H1N1 virus may develop a resistance to them. These drugs are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the start of flu symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest drinking plenty of liquids (water, juice and warm soups) to prevent dehydration, getting more sleep to help your immune system fight infection and taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as Tylenol, Advil or Motrin, to ease symptoms and make you feel more comfortable while you recover.
The following groups are at a higher risk of developing a severe disease if they get swine flu:
Pregnant women or within two weeks postpartum, including women who have had pregnancy loss.
Young children, especially under 2 years of age.
People with asthma, COPD or other chronic lung conditions.
People with cardiovascular conditions (except high blood pressure).
People with liver or kidney problems.
People with blood, neurologic, neuromuscular and metabolic disorders.
People with weakened immune systems.
Residents of a nursing home or other chronic-care facility.
Swine farmers and veterinarians have the highest risk of getting true swine flu due to their exposure to pigs. Contact with swine at seasonal fairs may also increase an individual's chance of getting the virus. Make sure to thoroughly wash hands after petting or coming within close contact of swine.
While most healthy individuals will not need treatment other than symptom relief, people in the groups mentioned above should seek medical care immediately if they develop flu-like symptoms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends taking these steps to avoid catching H1N1 "swine flu" and other seasonal flues:
Everyone 6 months and older should get an annual flu shot.
Wash hands regularly with soap and warm water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Scrub for at least 20 seconds and rinse thoroughly. If soap and water are not available, clean hands with an alcohol-based hand gel. Rub hands together until the alcohol dries completely.
Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. To avoid contaminating your hands, cough or sneeze into a tissue or the inner crook of your elbow.
If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home for seven days after symptoms begin or until you've been symptom-free for 24 hours -- whichever is longer.
Avoid close contact (being within 6 feet) with people who have flu-like symptoms.
People who have or are suspected of having swine flu should consider wearing a face mask, if available and tolerable, when sharing common spaces with other household members, when outside the home, or when near children or infants.
If a member of your household has H1N1 "swine flu," designate one other household member to be responsible for the ill person's close personal care.
Breastfeeding mothers with swine flu symptoms should express their breast milk, and the child should be fed by someone else.
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