1. Health

Avoiding the Flu

2008-2009 Flu Season Update

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Updated February 08, 2009

The flu season a few years ago was one of the worst in recent years. In addition to an early start, widespread cases across the United States, a strain of flu going around that was not included in that year's vaccine, and multiple cases of children dying from flu, there were also shortages of flu shots.

Since a yearly flu shot is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the flu, what will you do if you can't get one? Well, it is best to just start early and try to get your kids their flu shot. Fortunately there has been a good supply of flu vaccines this year.

Keep in mind that even now, as flu season has begun, it is still not to late to get a flu shot.

If you can not get a flu shot and you are exposed to someone with the flu, you might ask your doctor about prescribing an antiviral drug to help prevent you from getting sick. These flu drugs include Tamiflu (oseltamivir). Although usually only prescribed for 10 days after your flu exposure, they can also be used long-term for the whole flu season if you are considered high risk for getting seriously ill from the flu and you did not get a flu shot.

Older flu medicines, such as Flumadine (rimantadine), are no longer routinely recommended because of resistance problems, meaning they no longer work as well as newer flu drugs.

These flu medicines, along with Relenza (zanamivir), can also be used as treatment if you get sick with the flu. As a flu treatment, they can shorten the time a person infected with influenza feels ill by approximately 1 day, if treatment is started during the first 2 days of illness.

Unfortunately, this year the CDC is reporting more resistance even with Tamiflu, in which taking Relenza (zanamivir) or combining Tamiflu and Flumadine can be a good idea if the child has an unknown strain of flu or if they have influenza A. Tamiflu still seems to work well against influenza B, so if tests that can identify which type of flu your child has can be helpful.

Other Tips to Avoid the Flu

Whether or not you got a flu shot, since it isn't 100% effective, you should follow these steps to help prevent you and your family from getting sick with the flu:

  • Wash your hands often. Remember that one of the most common ways people catch colds and the flu is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with a virus. By washing your hands often, especially:
    • before, during, and after you prepare food
    • before you eat, and after you use the bathroom
    • after handling animals or animal waste
    • when your hands are dirty, and
    • more frequently when someone in your home is sick,
    you may avoid getting sick yourself and keep your kids from getting sick too.
  • Routinely clean, with soap and water, and disinfect surfaces, toys, and objects that younger children may put in their mouths. It may also help to wipe surfaces with paper towels that can be thrown away or cloth towels that can be washed afterwards.
  • Use disposable tissues to wipe or blow your child's nose.
  • Teach your children 'cough etiquette', which the American Academy of Pediatrics describes as teaching children to turn their heads and cough or sneeze into a disposable tissue or the inside of their elbow if they don't have a tissue, instead of simply coughing or sneezing onto their hands, which will then spread their germs onto everything they touch.
  • Avoid close contact with people when you are sick. It isn't really possible to completely avoid people who are sick, so it is likely better if you just avoid exposing other people to your germs when you or your kids are sick. So don't go to school, daycare, work, etc., if you are sick with the flu.
  • Avoid unnecessary contact with a lot of people for your younger children. It isn't easy to always tell when people are sick and some people are contagious even before they start to have symptoms, so don't expose your younger kids to large crowds of people if you don't have to.
  • Take a reusable water bottle to school, like a Sigg or CamelBak, instead of using the school water fountain, which may become contaminated with germs, especially during cold and flu season.


Sources:

MMWR. July 17, 2008 / 57 (Early Release), 1-60. Prevention and Control of Influenza. Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2008.

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