North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

September 16, 2009

The influenza virus can spread rapidly, especially among children


Health Watch By Sherry Mullenix

Special to The North Jefferson News




Influenza or “flu” is an acute respiratory infection caused by a variety of influ-enza viruses.

The most familiar aspect of flu is the way it can “knock you off your feet” as it sweeps through the community. The flu differs in several ways from the common cold in symptoms and onset.

Outbreaks of flu usually begin abruptly. It is not uncommon for up to 50 percent of the population in a community to be affected, with the highest incidence in the 5-14-year-old age group. Schools are an excellent place for transmission of flu viruses. Families with school-age children have a higher rate of infection than other families.

In the United States there are an estimated 25-50 million cases of flu reported each year, leading to 150,000 hospitalizations, and 30,000-40,000 deaths yearly. Worldwide, reported cases of flu reach approximately 1 billion, resulting in 300,000-500,000 deaths.

The major concern of the H1N1 type A influenza strain (swine flu). It is a new variety of the traditional seasonal flu. If exposed, the chances are high that you will “get it.” The vaccine for H1N1 should be out mid-October, and it is a one-time injection.

Swine flu symptoms in humans are similar to those of infection with other flu strains. Swine flu symptoms develop three to five days after you’re exposed to the virus and continue for about eight days, starting one day before you get sick and continuing until you’ve recovered. The symptoms are:

• Fever

• Cough

• Sore throat

• Body aches

• Headache

• Chills

• Fatigue

• Diarrhea

• Vomiting

Because of the rapid onset of the outbreak and large number of people affected, flu is important because of the seriousness of the complications that can develop. Most people who contract the disease recover within a week, but they may be tired for a longer time.

However, for elderly people, newborn babies, and people with chronic illnesses, the flu and its complications can be life-threatening.



Treatment

Once a person has the flu, treatment usually consists of resting in bed, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking medicine such as aspirin or acetaminophen to relieve fever and the discomfort. There are different types of medications your physician may use to treat the flu.

Antivirals are prescription medications that actively attack the flu virus and stop it from spreading within your body. However, in order to be effective, antiviral medications need to be used within the first 12-48 hours of onset of symptoms.

Should you or a family member come down with the flu, antivirals like Tamiflu (oseltamivir), Relenza (zanamivir), Symmetrel (amantadine) or Flumadine (rimantadine) may be your best bet.

Many people think antibiotics should be taken for the flu. This is not the case. Antibiotics are used for the treatment of bacterial infections. The flu is a viral infection. Taking antibiotics for the flu may be actually harmful to your health.

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments are medications you can get without a prescription from your physician. They are usually household medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and other products found at the pharmacy.



Prevention

Don’t have the flu, and don’t want to get it? Fortunately, there are some simple health-habit tips you can work into your life to decrease the changes of coming down with the flu. They obviously aren’t guarantees, just ways to give you peace of mind knowing you’re doing what you can to keep flu-free.

• Wash your hands: Many times the flu is spread by direct contact. The flu can also be spread through indirect contact from a family member or co-worker who sneezes on his hands and touches an object. Germs can live on objects for hours or sometimes even days. Hand-washing is a way to reduce the number of germs to which you are exposed.

• When sneezing or coughing, remember to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, not your hands. A tissue will collect the germs and keep everyone out of harm’s way. Be sure to throw it away immediately.

Other suggestions include: frequently washing shared items, such as phones or keyboards, staying away from crowds during the cold and flu season and using antibacterial hand gel.

Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with her husband, Steve Mullenix (R.Ph). They can be reached at 631-1201.