Flu Facts: What to know, What to do

Republished from HCA Virginia news release

Dr. Siobhan S. Dunnavant, OB/GYN Associates
HCA Virginia Health System  

It seems that H1N1 or the seasonal flu is everywhere?  How severe is it?
You're right - it does seem that way.  While we do have a lot of people with the flu virus in Central Virginia, the good news is that most cases seem to be mild - in fact more mild than a normal flu season.   Most people with either the seasonal flu or H1N1 have had a mild illness that can be treated at home with rest, fluids and Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

What is different about H1N1 versus the seasonal flu?
H1N1 is a novel virus, meaning it has never been seen before and therefore the community does not have any built-in immunity to it.  In addition the timing is different.  The traditional seasonal flu virus typically is strongest in February and March, whereas, the H1N1 virus is upon us now, much earlier in the season.

What are the signs of flu/H1N1?
Common signs include a cough, sore throat, runny nose accompanied by a high fever, aches and pains. Being tired, weak and having chills is common. Some patients have had vomiting and diarrhea.

What should I do if I or my child has these symptoms?
Don't spread it.  Stay home and avoid contact with others.  Drink lots of liquids, rest and take Tylenol or Ibuprofen.  The best way to avoid the spread of influenza is by staying home when you or your child is infected.  Wash hands frequently and cover your cough.

When should I see the doctor?
If you or your child has difficulty breathing, chest pain or are disoriented at all, please contact your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room.  While most cases of the flu virus/H1N1 are mild, these are three signs that you should be seen and evaluated. People with lung problems, such as asthma or COPD (emphysema) are at risk for developing pneumonia. People with significant medical problems should contact their primary care physician if they get severely ill.

Where should I go?
HCA Virginia Health System has a skilled group of primary care physicians, many with same day appointments available.  We also have a 24-hour nursing line should you need to talk with someone about signs and symptoms or where to find a physician who can see you.  That number is 804-320-DOCS (3627).

Should you experience trouble breathing, chest pain or disorientation, please go to one of our hospital Emergency Rooms.

  • Chippenham Hospital - Just South of the River off the Chippenham and Powhite at Jahnke Road
  • Henrico Doctors' Hospital - at Skipwith and Forest in the near West End
  • Johnston-Willis Hospital - on Midlothian Turnpike near Chesterfield Town Center
  • John Randolph Medical Center - in the heart of Hopewell
  • Parham Doctors' Hospital - in the West End on Parham Road between Board and Staples Mill
  • Retreat Doctors' Hospital - downtown in the Fan at Grove and Robinson

We hear stories in the media about deaths or extreme illness - are those common?
No.  In general, the virus has been widespread, but mild.  Across the entire United States, approximately 1,000 people have died due to flu/H1N1, while many millions have had the virus.  Most of those who died have been patients with other contributing illness that put them at greater risk of complications.

What is the best way to prevent the spread of flu/H1N1?
The best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to get vaccinated as immunizations become more broadly available.  In addition, take these everyday steps to protect yourself and others against the flu.

  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough/sneeze by doing so into your elbow or covering your face with a tissue.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with those who are sick.

I've heard the H1N1 vaccine has bad outcomes for some people.  Is it safe?
The H1N1 vaccine is FDA-approved and is produced using the same manufacturing approach that is used for our regular seasonal flu vaccine.  This process has been proven safe over many, many years.  For the vast majority of people, vaccination is a great way to prevent the spread of flu or lessen the length and intensity of the illness should you become affected.  Millions of people have been safely vaccinated, while bad outcomes are extremely rare.

Is the mist version of the vaccine different?  Does it pose different risks?
The mist version is different - it is what we call a live attenuated vaccine, meaning that it has components of the live vaccine that help you to develop immunities to the virus.  Some people should not get this version of the vaccine, such as those with compromised lung function, pregnant women or those who work with immunosuppresed patients.  However, otherwise it does not pose a higher risk to the person vaccinated.  Ask your physician for more information before getting the vaccine if you have any concerns or questions.

I've heard hospitals aren't allowing children to visit their families.  Is that true?
All of the hospitals in Central Virginia have come together to revise their visitation policies during this flu/H1N1 outbreak in order to keep patients, families and caregivers as healthy as possible.  The new policy took effect Monday, October 26, 2009, and is expected to be in place through March.  It restricts visitors to patient care areas to those healthy and over the age of 18.  It also requires that no more than 2 visit in a patient room at any given time.

Does this mean I can't take my children to the hospital to visit my family member?
It means that children under the age of 18 should not be in patient care areas unless they are the patient.  There are many common areas in our hospitals where children need to go and will go - lobbies, cafeterias, physician offices, etc.  However, the hospitals have asked children or sick adults not to go into patient care areas in order to protect hospital patients and employees from exposure to the flu.

Why did the hospitals do this?
Evidence shows that the incidence of H1N1 is highest among children and adolescents. School-aged children in close social settings are more likely to be exposed to flu and can be carrying the illness long before they show symptoms.  Recent CDC data shows nearly half of all H1N1 flu cases are among those 0 to 24 years old.

Will exceptions be made?
Limited exceptions for special circumstances will be made, for example, involving patients at the end of life or expectant or new fathers under the age of 18. Exceptions will be allowed at the discretion of the health care provider.

Is there a risk to my healthy children at the hospital?
Because the outbreak of flu/H1N1 is so widespread, we believe it is safest right now to keep healthy children at home rather than visiting hospitals where those in need of care are going.  We don't want healthy children to be exposed unnecessarily to the flu.  We also don't want children who might be infected with the virus - even if they exhibit no symptoms - to carry the flu into the healthcare setting where patients are often already in poor health.

When is it safe to go around someone who has had the flu virus?
24 hours after the person has been fever free without medication, they should not be contagious.

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