H1N1 - What you need to know

H1N1 - What You Need to Know


Respiratory Virus and H1N1 (Swine Flu) – Know the Facts

There is so much information about this year's flu and H1N1 (Swine Flu) that most parents don't know who to believe. We asked the Infection Control department at Phoenix Children's Hospital to give us the facts about H1N1.

"We are in regular contact with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), who provide us with definitive, timely information on H1N1 and other public health issues," says Scott Ostdiek, MD, Section Chief of pediatric infectious disease at Phoenix Children's Hospital. "Their Web sites are a great resource for parents, caregivers, and schools."

Influenza A - H1N1 Update

Seasonal flu activity normally drops off over the summer months. But this year has been unusual -- flu activity is still at high levels statewide, mostly due to the H1N1 flu virus. Flu cases are expected to increase now that students have returned to school. This fall, it's possible we will see two waves of flu: one caused by H1N1 virus and a second caused by seasonal flu virus. 

Each year in the US, seasonal flu causes about 36,000 deaths and 300,000 hospitalizations. No one knows what impact H1N1 will have on these numbers. As of mid-September, 2009, H1N1 flu did not appear to be causing disease that was more severe than typical seasonal flu virus. Viruses can mutate however, and public health authorities are carefully monitoring the situation and watching for any signs that 2009 H1N1 flu is changing or beginning to cause more severe illness.

How can I protect my family from respiratory viruses?

There are things you can do to protect yourself, your family, and others from respiratory virus. Vaccination remains the best protection against the flu, but you can help reduce your chances of getting sick.

Our tips may seem simple but if followed, they will reduce your exposure to virus – and the chance that you'll pass it along to your kids:

  • Use alcohol hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap and water frequently.
  • Cover your mouth or nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough/sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
  • Put used tissue in the trash, and clean your hands right away.
  • Avoid touching your eyes and nose. Cold and flu viruses can enter your body through these sites.
  • Avoid sharing food, eating utensils, drinking glasses and water bottles, crayons and other personal items.
  • Give each person in the family their own hand towel to use in the bathroom. Many viruses can be spread through used towels and cloths.
  • Clean items around the house (phones, counter tops, refrigerator handles, etc.) with a disinfectant on a regular basis. Cold and flu viruses can live on these surfaces and pass to your hands.

Who should get the H1N1 vaccine? 

Currently the 2009 H1N1 flu virus seems to be causing serious health outcomes for:

  • healthy young people from birth through age 24;
  • pregnant women; and
  • people of all ages who have certain underlying medical conditions (go to www.cdc.gov for a list of these conditions).

The CDC and FDA believe that the benefits of vaccination with the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine will far outweigh the risks. But this is a decision you should make after talking with your own family physician and pediatrician.

Vaccination is still the best way to prevent influenza infection and its complications. This is the reason that CDC, national health organizations, and healthcare providers intensively promote vaccination for seasonal influenza, and the reason why so much work is being done to have a vaccine available in the fall for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus. Work continues on the H1N1 vaccine, but we don't know exactly when it will be available.

However, flu vaccines do not protect against other respiratory illnesses. Even if you are vaccinated, it is still important to wash your hands well and often, to cover your coughs and sneezes, and to stay home if you are sick.

How will I know if I or my child(ren) have H1N1?

The H1N1 flu virus infection can cause a wide range of symptoms. These include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and feeling tired. Some people have diarrhea and vomiting as well. Like seasonal flu, H1N1 flu can be mild to severe or somewhere in between.

Sometimes bacterial infections may occur at the same time as or after infection with influenza viruses and lead to pneumonias, ear infections, or sinus infections. Your doctor can prescribe medicine to address the symptoms of these other infections.

What should I do if my children or I get the flu?

People with novel H1N1 swine flu who are cared for at home should:

  • Check with their doctor about any special care they might need if they are pregnant or have a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or emphysema
  • Check with their doctor about whether they should take antiviral medications
  • Keep away from others as much as possible. This is to keep from making others sick. Do not go to work or school while ill
  • Stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone, except to seek medical care or for other necessities (fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, sports drinks, electrolyte beverages for infants) to keep from being dehydrated
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often and especially after using tissues and after coughing or sneezing into hands
  • Wear a facemask when sharing common spaces with other household members to help prevent spreading the virus to others. This is especially important if you are breastfeeding
  • Watch for emergency warning signs (see below) that might indicate you need to seek medical attention

When should I seek Emergency Medical Care?

Get medical care right away if the sick person at home:

  • Has difficulty breathing or chest pain
  • Has purple or blue lips or the areas around the mouth or eyes
  • Is vomiting and not to keep liquids down
  • Has signs of dehydration such as dizziness when standing, absence of urination, or in infants, a lack of tears when they cry
  • Has seizures (for example, uncontrolled convulsions)
  • Is less responsive than normal or becomes confused

Phoenix Children's Hospital's Emergency Department is located on 20th Street just South of Thomas Road. This is also the S.R. 51 access road. If you call an ambulance or paramedics to transport your child, you may request which hospital they go to.

What medications help lessen the symptoms of the flu?

Antiviral medicine can sometimes help lessen flu symptoms, but require a prescription. They should be started as early as possible because research shows that treatment started early (within first 48 hours) is more likely to help.

Most people do not need these antiviral drugs to fully recover from the flu. Ask your physician whether you need antiviral medication.

Warning! Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) to children or teenagers who have the flu; this can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye's syndrome.

Check ingredient labels on over-the-counter cold and flu medications to see if they contain aspirin.

Children 5 years of age and older and teenagers with the flu can take medicines without aspirin, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®), to relieve symptoms. Children younger than 4 years of age should NOT be given over-the-counter cold medications without first speaking with a health care provider.

The safest care for flu symptoms in children younger than 2 years of age is using a cool-mist humidifier and bulb suction to help clear away mucus. Fevers and aches can be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).

Log on to www.azdhs.gov for the latest information on H1N1. Content for this article was provided by the CDC and Phoenix Children's Hospital Infection Control department. For specific questions about how to treat respiratory viruses in your family, please speak to your physician/pediatrician.

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