2009-08-13 / Local & State

Medical Center Prepares For Flu Season

Offers advice for avoiding H1N1 virus
By Jean Snyder STAFF WRITER

With the influenza season perhaps just weeks away, Fulton County Medical Center is offering advice on prevention methods that can, hopefully, help to avoid the flu.

Although "flu season" hits every year from as early as late fall through the winter months, this year the "swine flu" or the H1N1 virus is expected to cause significant disruptions in schools, workplaces and hospitals, according to U.S. and international health officials.

Fulton County Medical Center staff will have a booth at the Fulton County Fair August 18-20 to provide citizens with tips on how to stay healthy and fight the flu this season. Information will include proper hand-washing advice.

Lori Best, R.N., infection control nurse at FCMC, said "although there is no vaccine available right now to protect against novel H1N1 virus, there are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza." Best said the following tips are good to follow to avoid any influenza illness:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

• Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Wash with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand cleaner. CDC recommends that when you wash your hands - with soap and warm water - that you wash for 15 to 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers may be used. You can find them in most supermarkets and drugstores. If using gel, rub your hands until the gel is dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

• Stay home if you are sick for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours. This is to keep from infecting others and spreading the virus further.

The swine flu virus (an influenza type A H1N1 virus) was first isolated from a pig in 1930. In the past, CDC received reports of approximately one human swine influenza virus infection every one to two years in the U.S., but from December 2005 through February 2009, 12 cases of human infection with swine influenza were reported. However, since emerging last spring in Mexico, the virus has spread to at least 168 countries, causing more than 162,000 confirmed cases and playing a role in at least 1,154 deaths, including 436 in the United States.

In Pennsylvania, nearly 2,000 cases have been confirmed with nine deaths reported in Berks, Montgomery, Pike and Philadelphia counties. No cases have been confirmed in Fulton County and five have been confirmed in Franklin County.

While symptoms of swine flu may be similar to those of seasonal influenza (fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue; a significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting), it is different in that the largest number of H1N1 flu confirmed and probable cases have occurred in people between the ages of 5 and 24 years old rather than in the elderly and infants.

While there is no vaccine available now to protect against the H1N1 virus, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has said that a vaccine could be available in mid-October. Scientists who study the virus say the number of cases could increase rapidly as soon as schools begin to reopen in the next few weeks and could accelerate further as cooler, drier temperatures return, possibly peaking in October, much earlier than the regular flu season.

According to Best, in children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

• Fast breathing or trouble breathing

• Bluish or gray skin color

• Not drinking enough fluids

• Severe or persistent vomiting

• Not waking up or not interacting

• Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

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

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

• Sudden dizziness

• Confusion

• Severe or persistent vomiting

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

FCMC advises, if you are sick, limit your contact with other people as much as possible. If you are sick, stay home for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptomfree for 24 hours, whichever is longer. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Put your used tissue in the waste basket. Then, clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.

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