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Advice From Medical Experts For People Who Are Experiencing Flu-Like Illness

(October 5, 2009 – Rockville Centre, NY) – Health and hospital officials urge local residents to help better manage the response to the novel H1N1 Influenza virus.

The Health Emergency Response Data System (HERDS) advises not seeking hospital or emergency room treatment, unless necessary as novel H1N1 infuenza (swine flu) spreads on Long Island.

Advice from medical experts for people who are experiencing flu-like illness and wonder whether they should seek medical care is:

  • For most individuals, H1N1 will be no worse than the seasonal flu.
  • Most people recover from seasonal or H1N1, without needing medical treatment.
  • Most flu patients can be cared for best at home, thus helping to keep Emergency Department treatment for people who truly need it.
  • In addition to caring for people with severe novel H1N1 flu, local hospitals still have to manage their regular patient caseload.

Seasonal flu is caused by different flu viruses versus novel H1N1 influenza, which first appeared in the United States in April, 2009. Seasonal flu occurs every year, starting in the fall and lasting through spring. Certain people are at "high risk" of serious complications from seasonal influenza. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five, pregnant women and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. "Because flu viruses change each year, annual vaccines are important," states James Clyne, Jr., Executive Deputy Commissioner at New York state Department of Health. "It takes about two weeks after vaccination to develop protection. The best time to get vaccinated is early fall through December. But you can still get a flu shot or the flu spray vaccine through March and beyond. Flu season usually peaks in February, but, can continue through May. Any protection against the flu is better than no protection!"

When someone who does not actually have the flu or is mildly sick comes to a hospital emergency department, the person could contract the flu from someone there. The individual could then spread the flu to others. The individual could delay important health care for seriously ill persons waiting to be treated. Flu-like illness includes fever, chills, headache, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, tiredness, and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting.

When caring for individuals at home, give them medications such as acetaminophen to help reduce fever, and make sure they get rest and plenty of fluids. Individuals under age 19 should never be given aspirin to reduce pain or fever, because it could cause a rare, but potentially serious condition called Reye's Syndrome. Individuals who are sick should stay at home until fever has disappeared for at least 24 hours, without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

When You Should Seek Medical Attention

Some people should get medical care, if they have the flu. People who have conditions that may result in more severe illness from influenza should call or see their health care provider if they have flu symptoms. These people include women who are pregnant, children younger than 5, persons 65 and older, and persons of any age who have a medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, or asthma. Their health care providers may decide to prescribe medications for the flu. Flu patients who become dehydrated require medical intervention. Parents should be aware that children can become dehydrated in a short period of time. Symptoms to be concerned about are dry mouth and tongue, lack of tears, dark circles or sunken eyes, decreased urine output and lethargy (extreme drowsiness or pronounced lack of interest in their surroundings). If these circumstances occur, call your health care provider. Get emergency care, if your health care provider cannot be reached. Call your doctor immediately or seek emergency care in the event of severe or worsening illness.

In adults, the signs of severe or worsening illness are: rapid breathing, difficulty breathing; pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, bluish skin color, dizziness or confusion, increasing fever or severe persistent vomiting. In children, the signs of severe or worsening illness include: increased fever, rash, rapid or difficult breathing, bluish skin color, irritability, lack of responsiveness (not waking up or not interacting) and not drinking enough fluids.

If you are caring for a household member at home who is sick with influenza, the most important ways to protect yourself and others are: Keep the sick person away from people as much as possible. Remind the sick person to cover when coughing, and frequently wash their hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub, especially after coughing and/or sneezing. Have everyone in the household clean their hands often, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. Ask your health care provider, if household contacts of the sick person, particularly those contacts who may be pregnant or have chronic health conditions, should take antiviral medications to prevent the flu. If you are considered at high risk for complications from influenza, you should attempt to avoid close contact (within six feet) with household members who are sick with influenza. If close contact with a sick individual is unavoidable, consider wearing a facemask, if available.

More information on novel H1N1 influenza and taking care of an H1N1 flu patient at home is available at http://www.nyhealth.gov and http://www.cdc.gov

Additional information is also available at www.chsli.org

 

 

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