2013-10-18 / Community Events

Fight the Flu – Cover your cough and wash your hands

By Kathleen Haskell
Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center

In the northern hemisphere, fall/winter is the time for the flu. The timing and duration of flu seasons vary. While flu outbreaks can happen early as October, most of the time influenza activity peaks in January or later. Illnesses like the flu and colds are caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. The flu and colds usually spread from person to person when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and published in the Journal of American Medical Association, provided information on the number of people in the United States who are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications each year. The study concluded on average that more than 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized each year for respiratory and cardiac-related illnesses associated with seasonal influenza virus infections.

Although many people think of seasonal influenza as just a common cold, it is really a specific and serious respiratory disease that can result in hospitalization and death. In the United States, the number of seasonal influenza-associated deaths has increased since 1990. This increase is due in part to the substantial increase in the number of persons age 65 years or older, who are at increased risk for death from seasonal influenza complications.

Influenza can occur among persons of all ages; however, the risks for complications, hospitalizations, and deaths are higher among persons age 65 years or older, young children, and persons of any age who have certain medical conditions. Case reports and studies also indicate that pregnancy can increase the risk for serious medical complications from influenza.

Hospitalization from influenza-related complications is also high among children age 24 months and younger - comparable to rates for persons age 65 and older. Since the 2003-2004 season, reported pediatric deaths during regular influenza seasons have ranged from 35 deaths, during the 2011- 2012 season, to 122 deaths, during the 2010-2011 season. During 2009, the H1N1 influenza pandemic, which lasted from April 15, 2009 to Oct. 2, 2010, had 348 pediatric deaths reported to CDC.

The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. There also are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat and prevent the flu but have no effect on the common cold.

How flu and colds spread:

Person to Person

The main way that influenza viruses are thought to spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This is called “droplet spread.” This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else’s mouth or nose) before washing their hands.

Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick do not need to be cleaned separately, but importantly these items should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Linens, such as bed sheets and towels should be washed by using household laundry soap and tumbled dry on a hot setting. Individuals should avoid “hugging” laundry prior to washing it to prevent contaminating themselves. Individuals should wash their hands with soap and water immediately after handling dirty laundry. If soap and water are not available, they should use an alcohol-based hand rub* to clean their hands. Eating utensils should be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap.

The Flu Is Contagious

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some persons can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.

How to help stop the spread of germs:

Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough

Cough or sneeze into your bent elbow upper sleeve or use a tissue and then throw it away.

Clean your hands often

When available, wash your hands -- with soap and warm water -- then rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces. Wash for 15 to 20 seconds. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.

When soap and water are not available, alcoholbased disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using a gel, rub the gel in your hands until they are dry. The gel doesn’t need water to work; the alcohol in the gel kills germs that cause colds and the flu.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth

Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs can live for a long time, some can live for 2 hours or more on surfaces like doorknobs, desks, and tables.

When you are sick or have flu symptoms, stay home, get plenty of rest, and check with a healthcare provider as needed. Your employer may need a doctor’s note for an excused absence. Remember: Keeping your distance from others may protect them from getting sick. Common symptoms of the flu include:

• fever (usually high)

• headache

• extreme tiredness

• cough

• sore throat

• runny or stuffy nose

• muscle aches, and

• nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, (much more common among children than adults).

Practice other good health habits

Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Practicing healthy habits will help you stay healthy during flu season and all year long.

Questions about the flu and immunization availability, call your doctor. Visit www.ddeamc.amedd.army. mil for news updates. Check the DDEAMC Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DDEAMC for posts about flu immunization clinics locations and time for eligible beneficiaries.

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