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Health & Exercise Forum

H1N1 - The New Flu? Part II of III on Cold and Flu Season

Nov 9, 2009


Medical Reviewer: Gregory Cali, D.O.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza “the flu” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and at times, death. Each year in the United States, on average, 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu related complications and approximately 36,000 people die from flu related causes. Those who are older, younger and have certain health related conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications. However, experts at the CDC expect this year to be far worse and more complicated due to the H1N1 virus.

H1N1 was first detected in people in the United States in April of 2009. This virus was originally referred to as the “swine flu” because many of its genes were similar to influenza viruses that normally occur in pigs in North America. Scientists soon discovered that H1N1 is very different. The CDC has determined that this novel virus is contagious and on June 11, 2009, the World Health Organization announced that the H1N1 virus had reached pandemic proportions.

This new influenza virus spreads from person to person in much the same way as the old seasonal flu described in last week’s article. Flu viruses spread mainly from person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Viruses can also spread when a person touches a surface with flu viruses on it and then touches his eyes, nose, or mouth.

There are numerous ways to protect yourself from acquiring either “flu”, the traditional seasonal or the new H1N1. Encourage everyone to cover their mouth and nose when they cough or sneeze. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.

If someone you live with has a confirmed case of the H1N1 flu, follow the same precautions you would to avoid the ordinary seasonal flu. Limit contact with the affected person. Avoid having visitors. Wash your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub. Consider using a face mask or a N95 respirator. Wash all dishes with warm water and soap.

Limiting the transmission of H1N1 in the classroom is critical since this “new flu” appears to have an affinity for young children. Students and staff who appear to have flu-like symptoms should be sent to a separate room until they can be sent home. The CDC recommends that they wear a surgical mask, if possible, and that those who care for ill students and staff also wear protective gear. Encourage students, faculty, and staff with flu-like symptoms to stay home for at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever, or have signs of a fever, without the use of fever-reducing products. They should stay home even if they are using antiviral drugs. Remember to always emphasize the importance of the basic foundations of inFLUenza prevention. (See "10 Tips to Prevent the Spread of Flu.")

The most important prevention measure for both flu and cold is frequent hand washing. Hand washing by rubbing the hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds helps to slough germs off the skin. In addition to frequent hand washing, getting a flu shot each year to prevent influenza is very important. Please join us next week to discuss WHO should get vaccinated, WHY you should get vaccinated, and WHAT risks are associated with getting vaccinated.

10 Tips: Protect Yourself and Others from the Flu

  1. Get a Flu Shot – talk to your physician
  2. Wash Hands Often
  3. Cover Nose/Mouth – when coughing/sneezing
  4. Avoid Touching Eyes/Nose/Mouth
  5. Avoid Close Contact – from those with flu symptoms
  6. Rest, Vitamins, Fluids
  7. Diet – eat a well-balanced diet including plenty of fruits, vegetables and grains
  8. Exercise – those who exercise regularly get sick less often (strengthened immune system)
  9. Clean Common Surfaces: (with disinfectants such as bleach)
    1. Bedside tables, desks
    2. Bathrooms surfaces (facet/toilet handles)
    3. Door knobs, light switches
    4. Children’s toys
    5. Telephones, computer keyboard/mouse, remotes
    6. Refrigerator/Stove/Microwave handles
  10. Stay Home when you have flu symptoms until fever-free for 24 hours

Janet M. Caputo, PT, OCS – guest columnist is an associate and clinic director at Mackarey Physical Therapy where she specializes in outpatient orthopedic and neurologic rehab. She is presently working on her doctorate in physical therapy from the University of Scranton.
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum!” Part III of III on Cold and Flu. And if you missed it last week, go back and read Part I of this series, which outlines the difference between the cold and the flu.