Guest opinion: Tips for staying healthy during the flu season
October 1, 2009
Question: Will this year’s flu season be different from previous years?
Answer: Yes. H1N1 (swine) flu is a new virus that is already in our community and will continue through the winter. The typical winter (seasonal) flu will also be seen as fall progresses and through the winter.
Q: Why is there so much concern about the H1N1 virus?
A: H1N1 is a new and unpredictable virus. H1N1 is now the dominant influenza strain in most parts of the world, and no one has known immunity to it.
Q: Will our community experience economic impacts if there is a widespread outbreak of flu?
A: Many people won’t be able to work – either because they are sick or their kids are sick and home from school. Services may be provided to a lesser extent or even eliminated altogether. Visitors may be reluctant to come to Aspen or to go out for recreational, dining, shopping and other activities.
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Q: Who is at risk for flu?
A: We are all at risk simply through daily interactions with others. And just because ours is a small isolated community doesn’t mean we’re immune. H1N1 flu is most likely to be seen in those younger than age 25. Seasonal flu is particularly problematic for the very young, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions.
Q: What is the difference between colds, seasonal flu and H1N1 flu symptoms?
A: People often refer to mild illness that lasts for a day or so as “flu.” While many of these illnesses are caused by viruses, they are different from influenza. When people have influenza – even in a mild form – they are quite ill for one to two weeks. They are unable to work, go to school, or continue with their usual activities. Seasonal and H1N1 flu symptoms are similar: Temperature of 100 degrees or more, rapid onset of headache, dry cough, and severe body aches. Cold symptoms and/or gastrointestinal upset may be associated with H1N1. Colds: Cough, nasal congestion, possible sore throat, and low-grade fever with less severity and shorter duration than flu.
Q: What can I do to prevent colds and flu?
A: The most basic personal protection is also the most effective: Wash your hands frequently (with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer); keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth; cough/sneeze into your sleeve; stay home if you’re sick; and get your flu vaccine!
Q: Should I wear a mask in public?
A: A regular surgical or earloop mask is one option you may choose to help decrease your risk. Masks can be purchased at drug stores as available. In lieu of a mask, don’t hesitate to turn your back to those with symptoms.
Q: Can I spread the flu before I have symptoms?
A: Yes. You may infect others for one to two days before symptoms develop – another reason vaccination and basic personal protection are so important!
Q: Will there be sufficient flu vaccine available this year?
A: We expect to have plenty of seasonal vaccine. Availability of H1N1 vaccine is still tentative.
Q: Who should get a flu vaccine?
A: Everyone over the age of 6 months should get a seasonal flu vaccine. There are five populations that will be targeted initially for H1N1 including: pregnant women, people who live with or care for children younger than 6 months of age, health-care and emergency personnel, those who are between the ages of 6 months and 24 years, and people between 25 and 64 years of age with chronic medical conditions. More vaccine will become available as the year progresses, so it is possible the vaccine will eventually be offered to all.
Q: Will I need more than one vaccine this year?
A: It is recommended that adults receive one seasonal flu vaccine and one H1N1 vaccine. At this time we believe the two vaccines can be given at the same time. Recommendations for children have not yet been finalized.
Q: Is flu mist an option?
A: Both vaccines can be given as a nasal spray and an injection. However, there are health restrictions for the mist. Check with your provider to determine which option is best for you.
Q: I don’t usually get vaccinated for flu. Convince me that I should.
A: Seasonal flu kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. each year and should not be confused with other mild viral illnesses. Flu will significantly disrupt your life – your ability to care for your children, to go to work, to ski. And if that doesn’t convince you, we now have a pandemic of a new, novel flu virus – one that attacks young, healthy folks and has spread throughout the world, one that our health officials have limited experience with and for which none of us has immunity. H1N1 is an “unknown” to us; it just isn’t worth the risk.
Q: When can I get a flu vaccine?
A: Seasonal flu vaccine is now available at some pharmacies and physician offices. The first shipment of H1N1 vaccine is expected, although not confirmed, in mid-October. Following is a schedule of community immunization clinics which will offer seasonal flu vaccine. H1N1 vaccine will be added to the clinics as it becomes available:
• Oct. 7, 1-6 p.m. – At the Schultz Health and Human Services Building
• Oct. 14, 2-6 p.m. – At Snowmass Village Town Hall
• Oct. 17, 8:30-11:30 a.m. – Adults only, Midvalley Health Fair, El Jebel Community Center/Eagle County Government Building
• Oct. 20, 2-6 p.m. – At the Hotel Jerome
• Oct. 21, 1:30-6 p.m. – At Aspen Middle School
• Nov. 6, 8:30-10:30 a.m. – Seniors (age 60 and older), Senior Health Fair, at AVH
Watch the local papers for additional community clinics and information.
Q: Will the flu shot give me the flu?
A: No. Common side effects of the seasonal vaccine include low-grade fever and soreness/swelling at the site of the injection. This mild reaction should not be confused with influenza. The H1N1 vaccine will be very similar to seasonal flu vaccine, which has a very good track record for safety.
Q: What should I do if I am sick with flu symptoms?
A: Do not go to school, work, the grocery store, or other public places where you will expose others to your illness. Do call your doctor or the hospital if you feel you cannot manage your symptoms at home, are pregnant, have a chronic health condition that is worsened by your illness, or you feel you have developed complications (such as dehydration or difficulty breathing). Do check out http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1/guidance_homecare.
Q: When can I return to work or school following flu?
A: It is recommended that you stay home until at least 24 hours after your fever has subsided without the use of fever-reducing medications.
Q: What is our community doing to prepare for widespread flu?
A: Local agencies have been meeting on a regular basis for many months to prepare staffing plans (emergency workers will be sick too), alternate care plans (should the hospital be at capacity), equipment/supply inventories, flu clinics, and more. The schools are working with teachers and parents to educate students about prevention. In addition, flu-like illness is being monitored in schools, doctor’s offices, and the hospital. “Plan for the worst, hope for the best” has been our guiding philosophy.
Q: What does it mean to “hunker down?”
A: It means you’ll be staying home for up to two weeks. Be prepared to care for yourself, your family, and your pets during that time. Have sufficient water, food, medications, pet supplies, and sanitary supplies in case you are unable to get out and replenish your stocks.
Q: I have more questions; where can I get answers?
A: Call the Colorado Health Emergency Line for the Public (CoHELP) at 1-877-462-2911 or visit the Centers for Disease Control website at http://www.flu.gov.