MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Medical authorities are predicting that the coming flu season could be one of the most severe in years due to the presence of both the regular seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu, also known as swine flu. Here's what you need to know to protect yourself and your family:
Is it a cold or the flu?
The flu is generally worse than a cold. Its symptoms (fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry coughs) are more intense. It’s been said they once you have the flu, you never forget it. Flu symptoms tend to come on abruptly and affect the entire body. Symptoms include a fever higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, intense chills, body aches, exhaustion and constant, unproductive cough. In our area, the regular seasonal flu appears almost only during the winter. The flu generally last longer than a cold. Cold sufferers’ seldom run high fevers and their symptoms are generally located in the nasal area. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds usually do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations.
A cold is usually milder. Symptoms may include a sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, laryngitis, low-grade fever with muscle aches and a general rundown feeling. Colds last about a week and are more common during the winter. Flu symptoms are generally much more serious and intense.
Each year, between 5 to 20 percent of the population contracts the flu. Though most people recover in a few days, about 36,000 Americans die and 200,000 are hospitalized from the flu. Vaccination is the best way to prevent a case of the flu.
Q: What is the regular seasonal flu?
A: Outbreaks of the regular seasonal flu usually follows predictable seasonal patterns and occurs annually from October through April and peaking in February.
Q: What is a normal regular seasonal flu season like?
A: Each year in the U.S. between 5 to 20 percent of the population contracts the flu. Most people recover from the flu in a few days, although they may experience some fatigue for several weeks after. However, for some people flu is a much more serious illness that requires hospitalization. In extreme cases, the flu can lead to pneumonia or death. About 36,000 Americans die and 200,000 are hospitalized from the flu each year.
Q: What’s the best protection against the regular seasonal flu?
A: Vaccination. The flu vaccine protects against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. This year’s influenza vaccine contains three new influenza virus strains. The 2009-10 influenza vaccine can protect you from getting sick from these three viruses, or it can make your illness milder if you get a related but different influenza virus strain.
Q: Who should get a regular seasonal flu vaccination?
A: All children age 6 months to 18 years should get vaccinated against the flu. The CDC also recommends universal vaccinations for all people age 50 and older and anyone with a chronic illness such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. People who have cancer, people who are immunosuppressed or people who are infected with HIV (the virus that causes AIDS), should also get a flu shot.
Q: Will there be enough doses of regular seasonal flu vaccine available?
A: Manufacturers have already begun shipping doses and it is expected that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will be able to be vaccinated.
Q: What is H1N1 flu?
A: H1N1 flu (also know as swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses. People normally do not get swine flu. Most commonly, human cases of H1N1 flu happen in people who are around pigs but the virus can spread from person to person also.
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of H1N1 flu?
A: Signs and symptoms are similar to regular seasonal human flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also have diarrhea and vomiting
Q: How do I protect myself and my family?
A: There are everyday actions people can take to stay healthy:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
• Use disinfectants on frequently touched surfaces. Germs can also be spread when a person touches an infected surface and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose.
Q: How severe is H1N1 flu?
A: Most people suffer unpleasant but not life-threatening symptoms, such as fever, body aches, sore throat and runny nose and gastrointestinal problems.
Q: How bad has the H1N1 pandemic been in the U.S. so far?
A: Health care authorities estimate that there have more than 1 million cases of swine flu in the U.S. There have been 7,963 hospitalizations and 522 deaths from confirmed infections of pandemic H1N1 in the United States. About 75 percent of those hospitalized are under the age of 49, as are 60 percent of those who died.
Q: What should I do if I get infected with H1N1 flu?
A: Treatment is similar to that for seasonal flu. Most people get well by resting, staying hydrated and taking medicines to reduce fever. Stay home and keep your distance from others for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
Q: Can H1N1 flu be treated?
A: Yes, with the prescription flu drugs Tamiflu (an oral medication) and Relenza (an inhaled medication). Other over-the-counter flu medications are not known to be effective. The sooner you take either of these medications after exposure to the H1N1flu virus the more effective they are.
Q: Should I take the flu drugs as a preventative measure?
A: No. One of the main causes of resistance to anti-viral medications and antibiotics is the over-use of them for conditions in which they are not required. Use them only if needed and prescribed by a doctor.
Q: Are there enough flu drugs?
A: Yes. Federal and state governments have stockpiled enough of the anti-viral drugs for 50 million people.
Q: Will the regular seasonal flu vaccine protect people against H1N1?
A: The seasonal flu vaccine is unlikely to provide protection against H1N1. However a Novel H1N1 vaccine is in production and may be ready soon.
Q: Will there be enough Novel H1NI vaccine for everyone?
A: In the U.S., there should be 45 million to 52 million doses of the vaccine available by mid-October and as many as 195 million by the end of the year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Q: Who should receive the novel H1N1 vaccine?
A: Pregnant women, household contacts and caregivers for children younger than 6 months, healthcare and emergency medical services personnel, people from ages 6 months through 24 , people ages 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza.
To interview a Loyola experts in influenza, flu in children or infants, flu in pregnant women, flu testing or animal-to-human disease transmission, call Perry Drake in media relations, (708) 216-7940. Cell: (708) 441-7736.