With school back in session and flu season already upon us, Christ Hospital in Jersey City, is urging all residents to prepare themselves and their families in response to an unpredictable flu season.
Since H1N1 first appeared in April 2009, medical professionals at Christ Hospital have been working with local and state health officials to learn more about the virus and on ways to keep their patients, employees, and community out of harm’s way. “Education is key,” says Christ Hospital’s Emergency Medicine Chairman Dr. Vijay Akkapeddi. “Prevention and awareness remain as the most effective ways in keeping healthy. People don’t realize it, but even touching a door knob is enough to transmit the virus and get someone sick.” As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, while the flu can resemble a cold, the flu has more severe symptoms, including: fever, achy joints, sore throat, chills, congestion, a headache and cough. People who have contracted the H1N1 influenza virus have also reported nausea and diarrhea. Certain groups may be more likely to develop a severe illness from flu infection, such as persons with chronic medical conditions, children or young adults ranging from 6 months to 24 years of age, and pregnant women. It should be noted that while those over the age of 64 have an increased risk of general complications with influenza, studies indicate that population has not shown an increased risk of contracting the H1N1 virus.
Even if left untreated, most influenza infections will go away within 1 or 2 weeks, although a cough and fatigue may persist for a little longer. Seek medical attention with a family physician if symptoms persist or get worse and only visit the emergency room if severe symptoms develop such as difficulty breathing or chest pains, purple or blue discoloration of the lips, or signs of dehydration such as dizziness when standing, absence of urination or in infants if there is lack of tears when they cry. “People who go to the emergency room for mild symptoms pose the risk of exposing themselves to other more serious illnesses,” says Dr. Akkapeddi.
Residents who do come down with influenza-like illnesses are advised to stay home to prevent the spread of illness to others and to give their bodies time to recover. Adults and children should stay at home until they are fever-free for 24 hours (without the help of fever-reducing drugs).
There are simple actions that you can take every day to help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza:
- If you cough or sneeze, be sure to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue. In order to prevent further germs from spreading, make sure you discard your tissue after use.
- Wash your hands frequently with warm water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If you are not near a facility to wash your hands, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are also effective ways of killing germs. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth as germs spread this way.
- Avoid contact with those who may be ill. If you must be around someone who is sick, like a family member, make sure to remind the sick person to cover their coughs and sneezes and to wash hands frequently. Additionally, you should try to avoid close contact and wash your hands frequently, too.
- Stay home if you are sick for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.
- Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds, and other social distancing measures.
- The CDC advises to “be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, tissues, and other related items could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious.”
Families should take time to plan for possible emergencies due to a flu illness in their home or family. Creating a family emergency plan and flu home-care kit can help provide safer care at home for sick persons and prevent the spread of the virus.
Family Emergency Plan.
- Family Illness. Children, as well as adults should stay home if they are sick. When calling schools to report an absence, please specify the symptoms. This will help school and health officials to monitor the level of influenza activity in the community. Any child determined to be sick while at school will be sent home.
- School closures. If both parents work, decide who will take care of children if schools close due to a flu outbreak. Make sure that your children and their schools have your latest contact information and most current phone numbers.
- Important Phone Numbers. Keep a list of phone numbers for physicians, pharmacies, and potential caregivers for young children easily accessible.
- Isolate. If a member of your household becomes ill, designate an area where the person can rest and not expose the rest of the family.
Keeping extra-supplies at home can ease recovery and reduce stress. A flu home-care kit should contain:
- Thermometer. Symptoms of the flu include fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit, 37.8 degrees Celsius or greater).
- Facial tissues. Influenza is a respiratory illness that is spread by inhaling infected droplets from a person who has the virus. Therefore, it’s important to cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. Cover your cough or sneeze with your sleeve if you do not have a tissue
- Soap. Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water for about 20 seconds as it is the best way to prevent the flu. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a good alternative if soap and water are not available.
- Ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Ibuprofen-based fever reducers can lower a temperature for up to six hours and ease muscle and joint aches. Acetaminophen lowers fever for up to four hours. Use caution when mixing over-the-counter drugs and be sure to use age appropriate doses for children and infants.
- Decongestant. Heavy congestion is a major symptom of the flu. An over-the-counter product containing pseudoephedrine can provide relief for adults.
- Fluids. It’s important to be careful about dehydration, especially with children. Include extra water or electrolyte containing fluids such as Gatorade or Pedialyte in your kit.
- Antivirals. There are four antiviral prescription medicines approved to prevent or treat influenza: amantadine (Symmetrel), rimantadine (Flumadine), zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu). They need to be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms, so it’s important to call the doctor as soon as you start to feel sick. They won’t cure the flu, but can help get you back on your feet a day earlier.
Other ways to stay healthy this flu season and all year round include: Getting vaccinated against seasonal flu, making sure you get plenty of sleep, eating nutritious foods, and exercising regularly, as these can all strengthen the immune system. Jim Greene, manager of psychiatric emergency services at the hospital, also suggests taking time daily to manage your stress level. “Taking regular breaks, setting short and long-term goals and prioritizing daily tasks are all steps that can be taken to reduce anxiety and promote healthy living.” In addition, “exercising regularly increases natural mood enhancing chemicals, such as serotonin and endorphins, and has been proven to decrease the risk of disease (especially cardiovascular disease), and can help strengthen bones and can increase metabolism,” he adds.
The CDC and NJ Department of Health and Senior Services advises everyone to get a seasonal influenza shot this year as it becomes available. To locate a flu clinic in your area, visit www.nj.gov/health or call you local department of health.
The best prevention and protection is to stay informed of the latest guidelines, updates and recommendations from public health officials. For general information on H1N1 influenza, visit the Center to Disease Control’s website at www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/, the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services at www.nj.gov/health/, or for additional tips and ways Christ Hospital is responding to serve the healthcare needs of the community, visit www.christhospital.org.