Fight the Flu: Tips to help the unvaccinated

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Pascale Krumm, a CDC employee, receives a flu vaccine from CDC staff nurse Mollie McDonald-Waldron at a CDC "open house." (Photo by James Gathany/CDC)

From Special Reports
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If you did not receive an influenza vaccination this season, there are other steps you can take to prevent getting the virus from those who are ill.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu spreads by person to person contact and can be spread by patients from up to six feet away.
How Flu Spreads
Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
To avoid this, people should wash their hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately.

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 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.

Flu Prevention Tips:

1. Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick, too.

2. Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

3. Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

4. Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Antivirals 101

And yes, the flu can be treated. There are prescription medications called “antiviral drugs” that can be used to treat influenza illness. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) that fight against the flu in your body. Antiviral drugs are not sold over-the-counter. You can only get them if you have a prescription from your doctor or health care provider. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections.

If you get the flu, antiviral drugs are a treatment option. Check with your doctor promptly if you have a high risk condition, such as diabetes, and you get flu symptoms. Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to treat your flu illness.

When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. For people with a high risk medical condition, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness versus a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

Some side effects have been associated with the use of flu antiviral drugs, including nausea, vomiting, dizziness, runny or stuffy nose, cough, diarrhea, headache and some behavioral side effects. These are uncommon. Your doctor can give you more information about these drugs or you can check the CDC or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) websites.

Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within 2 days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high risk health condition or is very sick from the flu. Follow instructions for taking these drugs.

There are two FDA-approved antiviral drugs recommended by CDC this season. The brand names for these are Tamiflu (generic name oseltamivir) and Relenza (generic name zanamivir). Tamiflu is available as a pill or liquid and Relenza is a powder that is inhaled. (Relenza is not for people with breathing problems like asthma or COPD, for example.)

To treat the flu, Tamiflu and Relenza are usually prescribed for 5 days, although people hospitalized with the flu may need the medicine for longer than 5 days. Children and pregnant women can take antiviral drugs.

For more information, visit the CDC at www.cdc.gov/flu .



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