• Should I go to the doctor?
• Special consideration for pregnancy women, breastfeeding women, and young children
What is this new flu?
"Swine flu" is an influenza A (H1N1) virus normally found in pigs. There are many such viruses and they rarely infect humans. The virus currently causing human illness is a new type of swine flu that has developed the ability to infect people and be transmitted from person to person.
Although this new virus is called "swine flu," it is not transmitted from pigs to humans, or from eating pork products. Like other respiratory diseases, it is spread from person to person through coughs and sneezes. When people cough or sneeze, they spread germs through the air or onto surfaces that other people may touch.
We've prepared this article to enable members to become both prepared and informed. Don't panic and keep this in perspective with a regular flu season. According to Dr. David Fleming, Director & Health Officer for Public Health - Seattle & King County, "So far, locally and nationally, this swine flu strain appears to be no more severe than the flu we'd see in a typical flu season." The advice and recommendations shared are appropriate for good health and hygiene year round.
Everyday behaviors to stay healthy
- Eat well, stay hydrated, exercise, practice stress relief and get adequate rest to keep your immune system healthy and ready for challenge.
- If you are sick, stay home from work or school.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. If a tissue is unavailable, sneeze or cough into your sleeve at the elbow. Developing this habit will help prevent hand to object transmission of virus.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. To be effective, use soap and water, washing for 20 seconds. Help your child wash long enough by singing Happy Birthday or another short song during the wash. If you don't have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- To further prevent the spread of germs, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
What are the symptoms?
Human symptoms for this new type of H1N1 flu are similar to the symptoms of the regular "seasonal" influenza that happens each year. Symptoms include fever, cough and sore throat. In addition, fatigue, lack of appetite, runny nose, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea have been reported.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that the H1N1 virus causing mild illness in some states is the same strain as the virus causing an outbreak of respiratory illness among humans in some areas of Mexico. It is not yet known if all of the fatal or hospitalized respiratory illness cases in Mexico are actually due to this virus. It is being investigated.
Should I go to the doctor?
It is not necessary to see a health care provider if flu symptoms are mild. If symptoms are more severe, call your health care provider to discuss if you or your child need to be seen and evaluated.
Keep children who are sick at home. Don't send them to school or daycare.
- Have them drink a lot of liquid (juice, water, Pedialyte™).
- Keep the sick child comfortable. Rest is important.
- For fever, sore throat, and muscle aches, you can use fever-reducing medicines that your doctor recommends based on your child's age. Do not use aspirin with children or teenagers; it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a life-threatening illness.
- If someone in your home is sick, keep him or her away from those who are not sick.
- Keep tissues close to the sick person and have a trash bag within reach for disposing used tissues.
If your child experiences any of the following warning signs, seek emergency medical care:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish or gray skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that he or she does not want to be held
- Not urinating or no tears when crying
- Their symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Special precautions during infancy, pregnancy, and breastfeeding
According to Dr. Sara Philps, King County (Seattle) Group Health general practicioner, the next few days will be important in determining the spread and impact of H1N1 virus. "We really don't know a lot about how it is spread or its affects. Antiviral medication appear effective in lessening symptoms. Follow typical healthy behaviors such as handwashing and try to stay out of public places. I suggest that families with young children and pregnant women stock up and stay home as much as is possible for the next week to ten days."
Pregnant women are especially at risk for complications from the H1N1 flu virus and shouldn't hesitate to use antiviral drugs if they even think they might be infected, doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say.
Health officials are investigating 20 cases of infected pregnant women, several of whom had severe complications, says the CDC's Anne Schuchat. Pregnancy doesn't necessarily increase your risk for getting the swine flu -- or any other type of flu. If you do get the flu while you are pregnant, studies show you are up to five times more likely to suffer serious complications such as pneumonia.
High fevers in the mother during pregnancy present a risk to your baby. Sustained body temperature over 101 degrees increase the risk of miscarriage and lead to an increased risk of neural tube defects in your baby.
There are things you can do to prevent these problems if you get the flu. The control your fever. The March of Dimes recommends acetaminophen (Tylenol) but talk to your doctor first to make certain it's okay for you. Drink plenty of fluids and use cool compresses to lower body temperature.
Keep taking your prenatal vitamins. Studies conducted at the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities in England, found that women who took a multi vitamin high in folic acid during pregnancy decreased their baby's risk of birth defects, even if they ran a fever while pregnant.
The two antiviral medication used to treat H1N1, Tamiflu and Relenza, are ranked by the FDA as Category C drugs, meaning they have not been tested for use during pregnancy. There have not been any cases of birth defects or other serious health concerns linked to the use of these drugs in pregnant women who have used them. If symptoms are severe, your doctor might suggest a course of either drug, and if this is the case, experts say don't be fearful. Do ask questions so that you do fully understand that the benefits do outweigh any possible risks.
Whether mom or child is sick, there is no need to interrupt or discontinue breastfeeding. If the child is sick, breastfeeding will likely be the best way to increase fluids by allowing the infant to nurse as much as possible. Also, the benefits of breastfeeding continue, including immune help from the breastmilk.
If mom is sick, since an individual is contagious before symptoms appear then your child has already been exposed. Discontinuing breastfeeding at this point (unless the illness becomes severe enough that you are hospitalized, will not likely hold any benefit for your child. For breastfeeding mom it is even more important to stay as hydrated as possible. Ice chips will help with hydration if water alone makes you feel nauseaous
In most children, the symptoms of H1N1 (swine flu) are similar to the symptoms of regular flu. Young children may not have typical symptoms, but may have difficulty breathing and low activity. Little is known about how H1N1 (swine flu) may affect children. However, it is thought the infection may be similar to other flu infections.
Typically, flu infections cause mild disease in children, but children under 5 years old are more likely to have serious illness than older children. Although rare, severe respiratory illness (pneumonia) and deaths have been reported with flu infections in children. Flu infections tend to be more severe in children with chronic medical conditions.
In addition to regular healthy habits, these will help prevent the spread of H1N1:
- Teach your children to stay at least six feet away from people who are sick.
- Children who are sick should stay home from school and daycare and stay away from other people until their symptoms are gone.
- In communities where H1N1 (swine flu) has occurred, stay away from shopping malls, movie theaters, or other places where there are large groups of people.
If your child comes in contact with someone with H1N1 (swine flu), ask your doctor if he or she should receive antiviral medicines to prevent getting sick from H1N1 (swine flu).
Preparing for an epidemic or pandemic
Think ahead about what services may be disrupted in your area. Possibilities include:
- Services provided by hospitals and other health care facilities, banks, stores, restaurants, government offices, and post offices. If your family members depend on community services, develop an alternate plan.
- Being able to work may be difficult or impossible. Find out if you can work from home in the event your place of business is closed.
- Schools/daycare centers may be closed for a period of time. Alternate childcare arrangements may be necessary. Plan learning and recreation activities for your children at home. Please do not use this time to take your child to recreational places such as parks, "play spaces," zoo, or museums -- or other places where large crowds may gather. The purpose of these type of closings is to limit your child's risk of exposure.
- Transportation services may be disrupted.
Stock a supply of water and food. During a pandemic you may not be able to get to a store. Even if you can get to a store, it may be out of supplies. Public waterworks services may also be interrupted. Stocking supplies can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters. Store foods that:
- are nonperishable (will keep for a long time) and don't require refrigeration
- are easy to prepare in case you are unable to cook
- require little or no water, so you can conserve water for drinking
Find more preparation ideas at Pandemic Flu Planning Checklist for Individuals and Families.
Stay informed. Knowing the facts is the best preparation. Identify sources you can count on for reliable information. If a pandemic occurs, having accurate and reliable information will be critical.
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