Flu Preparedness: Advice to Our Patients
As we approach the official beginning of autumn, we are entering the annual cold and flu season. Given the magnitude of health implications the flu can have on individuals (and their families), Duke Medicine is recommending the following steps to help our patients and community stay well this fall and winter.
- Understand the facts about the flu. The H1N1 and seasonal flu are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by influenza viruses. They are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing and less commonly by touching a contaminated surface. The circulating strain of H1N1 causes an illness pattern similar in severity and duration to typical seasonal flu in most patients.
- Know if you are in a high-risk group for complications from influenza. The high-risk groups for complications from H1N1 and seasonal influenza are similar. The major difference is that pregnant women and younger patients seem to be at a slightly higher risk to contract H1N1 (possibly because older patients have developed immunity to similar viruses over the years). The following are high-risk groups whose Duke health care provider should be contacted immediately if they become ill with influenza-like symptoms: children less than five years old, pregnant women, adults and children who have chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems, persons aged 65 years or older, residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.
- Understand the symptoms associated with the flu. Seasonal and H1N1 flu symptoms are indistinguishable. They include: fever, sore throat, chills, body aches, cough, runny or stuffy nose, diarrhea, vomiting and headache. Please note that many of the recommendations regarding when it is safe to return to work or school are based on knowing your body's temperature. If you don't have a thermometer in the house, consider purchasing one now.
- Understand when to seek medical care. Most patients recover from the flu completely in a few days and do not require a visit to their health care provider. But it is important to know when you should seek medical care. Flu symptoms typically resolve in five days, but if your symptoms persist beyond five days, contact your primary care doctor. If you have any of the following potentially life-threatening symptoms while battling the flu, immediately contact your health care provider or go to the closest Emergency Department: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, flu symptoms that initially improve but then return with cough and fever. Infants should be taken immediately to the Emergency Department if there is a bluish or gray skin color, lack of responsiveness, or extreme irritability.
- Get a seasonal flu shot. The seasonal flu vaccine is the single best way to avoid getting the seasonal flu. It does not protect you from the H1N1 (aka "swine") flu, but is highly effective against most strains of the seasonal flu. Duke clinics will begin offering seasonal flu shots as early as mid-September this year. By obtaining your flu vaccine well before the peak of flu season, you give your body the ability to build immunity to the flu before you are exposed. It takes about two weeks for your body to fully build its defenses after receiving the vaccine.
- If you're sick, stay home! The flu is spread when an infected individual coughs and sneezes. Once it is in the environment, the rest of us can catch the flu from handshakes, by simply being in close contact with someone who is infected, or by touching contaminated surfaces. If you come down with flu-like symptoms, stay home (away from other people) until at least 24 hours after your fever has naturally resolved.
- Wash your hands frequently. Frequent hand washing is a simple way to avoid a multitude of infections -- including the seasonal flu, swine flu, and the common cold. Wash your hands well using soap and water; alcohol-based hand gels are a good alternative when you are away from a sink. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, as these are the routes of entry for cold and flu viruses into the body.
- Eat right and sleep tight. Stay hydrated. Diet and sleep patterns have a profound effect on your body's ability to fight infection and disease. Eating green, red and yellow fruits and vegetables and sleeping a minimum of eight hours a night boosts your body's immune system. A healthy adult needs to drink about 64 ounces of water each day.
- Flu Mythbusters: Cameron Wolfe, MD, Talks Flu Vaccine Safety and Effectiveness
- To Help Stop the Spread of Flu, Early Prevention is Best
- Podcast: How to Prevent the Flu -- Common Questions Answered
- Fight the Flu
- Guidance for Parents of Children With Underlying Medical Conditions [PDF, 69.2KB]
- What You Should Know for the 2013-14 Influenza Season (CDC)
- H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu): American Academy of Pediatrics Advice
Resources for Duke Faculty & Staff
The following internal resources are available for Duke physicians, faculty, & staff
- DUHS Influenza Resource Guide (Intranet)
- Table of Anti-Influenza Medications [PDF, 286KB]
- Clinical Guidance for Pediatric Patients [PDF, 104KB]