A formidable flu season part II: Is it the flu?

Published 8:14 am Friday, September 25, 2009

Editor’s note: This is part two of a three-part series. Part three will cover what Southampton Memorial Hospital is doing to prepare for and manage patient care in an H1N1 pandemic.

Thanks to media attention, communities, work places and schools are on heightened alert for signs of the flu.

Although the number of deaths so far from the novel 2009 H1N1 influenza A has been proportionately less than annual deaths from seasonal flu, the novel H1N1 virus has been obstinate in the United States, refusing to fade away as flu viruses usually do.

More than ever, this season it’s important to be able to recognize flu symptoms and know what to do.

The best way to avoid a cold or flu is to minimize your risks of illness. The number-one tactic to protect yourself and your family from the flu is to get both the seasonal and novel H1N1 vaccinations.

The next line of prevention is to minimize your exposure. If a novel H1N1 outbreak hits your area before you’re vaccinated, be extra cautious.

Stay away from public gathering places like malls, sporting events and churches.

Wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your eyes, nose and mouth. And remember, you cannot catch the novel H1N1 — formerly called swine flu — from eating or touching pork or poultry.

Is it the flu?

Quite often, people mistake a bad cold as the flu – and to make it more difficult, the symptoms for the novel H1N1 and the seasonal flu are very similar:

high fever (novel H1N1 occasionally lacks a fever)


extreme tiredness

dry cough

runny or stuffy nose

muscle aches

sore throat



Influenza symptoms usually begin one to four days after the virus is contracted. But remember, having these symptoms does not always mean it’s the flu.

Many other illnesses can have similar symptoms.

Should I visit my doctor?

If you develop flu-like symptoms or are at high risk for flu complications, contact your doctor.

There are tests that can help determine if you have the flu as long you are tested within the first two or three days of illness.

Those at high risk for complications include people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.

If it is flu . . .

If you or a family member contracts any strain of flu, stay home to keep from infecting others.

The flu virus can be spread beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming ill, according to the CDC, and children may remain contagious for seven days or more.


If you leave the house to seek medical care, wear a face mask.

Cough into your elbow or shoulder.

Wash your hands – often.

Remain home — at least 24 hours after you are free of fever (100° F / 37.8° C) — or signs of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.

If you are sick and share a common space with other household members, wear a face mask to help prevent spreading the virus.


Antiviral medications are available with a doctor’s prescription to treat flu symptoms, reduce the possibility of serious complications, and help you to feel better, faster.

If you are diagnosed with the novel H1N1 flu, your doctor may prescribe an influenza antiviral medication, such as oseltamivir (trade name Tamiflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®).

For mild cases of influenza, plenty of rest, liquids and over-the-counter medicines will help ease symptoms.

Over-the-counter cold and flu medications may help lessen symptoms like a cough and congestion, but these medications will not reduce your likelihood of spreading the flu.

Fevers and aches can be treated with acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). Patients with kidney disease or stomach problems should check with their doctor before taking any NSAIDS.

Check the ingredients on the package label to see if the medication already contains acetaminophen or ibuprofen — don’t double-dose!

Often, influenza infections can lead to or occur with bacterial infections; therefore, some people will also need to take antibiotics.

Special warnings for children:

Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers who have the flu; this can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye’s syndrome. Check ingredient labels on over-the-counter cold and flu medications to see if they contain aspirin.

Children age 5 years and older and teenagers with the flu can take medicines without aspirin, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol®) and ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®, Nuprin®), to relieve symptoms.

Children younger than 4 years old should not be given over-the-counter cold medications without first speaking with a doctor.

The safest treatment for flu symptoms in children younger than 2 years old is a cool-mist humidifier for congestion and a suction bulb to help clear away mucus.

Flu complications — Emergency warning signs

The flu can easily become an emergency situation. Complications can include bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.

If a sick child or adult develops any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical care at your local emergency room:

In adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

purple or blue discoloration of the lips

severe or persistent vomiting; unable to keep liquids down

signs of dehydration such as dizziness when standing and absence of urination

seizures or convulsions

less responsive than normal or becomes confused

flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

a high fever for more than three days

In addition to the above mentioned signs, for children, additional emergency warning signs include:

fast breathing or trouble breathing

bluish or gray skin color

dehydration or can’t keep down liquids; absence of urination or a lack of tears when they cry

not waking up or not interacting

being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

Southampton Memorial Hospital and its health care team are committed to keeping our community informed about the flu season as new information becomes available.

Watch for the next installment in this series, “How to care for someone who has the flu.”

For more information on novel H1N1 or seasonal flu, visit us on the Web at www.smhfranklin.com and click on the Health Resources link.