Flu & You
As we move into the cooler fall and winter months, the best defense against contracting influenza (flu) is to be informed and take precautions. Every year in the United States, on average:
- Between 5% and 20% of the population gets the seasonal flu (approximately 30 million Americans)
- More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related complications; and about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes
To further complicate matters, we now have the Novel H1N1 influenza virus:
- H1N1 (initially referred to as “swine flu”) is a new influenza A virus. This new virus was first detected in people in the United States in April 2009 and is thought to have originated in Mexico.
- This virus is behaving much like seasonal influenza, spreading from person-to-person through close contact, and hitting those with chronic medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease, the hardest. The virus has continued to circulate in the US, throughout the summer, particularly in the Southeast and will run together with our seasonal flu.
- Fortunately this virus has not become more powerful or more deadly and we haven't seen much drug-resistance. The antiviral drugs that we have available are still very effective against the virus at this time.
It is important that you take care of yourself and your loved ones during flu season and stay informed. The information below is provided to help you to stay healthy.
There are some simple measures that you can take to help reduce your risk of getting the flu. These include:
- Getting vaccinated against seasonal flu. This is especially important if you are at high risk for respiratory complications.
- Avoiding close contact with sick people.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for a minimum of 15 seconds, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective. Use products that contain at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way. The flu virus can survive for eight hours or longer on a smooth surface.
- If you are caring for someone at home who is sick with the flu, wear a mask.
Should you become ill, you can help protect your family, friends and co-workers from getting the flu by taking these steps:
- Stay home if you are sick until you are free of fever, without the use of medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for at least 24 hours.
- Cover your cough at home. Wear a mask when around others in the house.
When you stay home, make sure you:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, sports drinks, electrolyte beverages for infants) to keep from being dehydrated
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Clean hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub often and especially after using tissues and after coughing or sneezing into hands
- Keep away from others as much as possible. This is to keep from making others sick. Do not go to work or school while ill
- Wear a face mask – if available and tolerable – when sharing common spaces with other household members to help prevent spreading the virus to others. This is especially important if other household members are at high risk for complications from flu
- Stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone, except to seek medical care or for other necessities. (Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.)
For additional precautions while at home, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section below.
When to see your physician/provider
In general, most people with the flu don’t need treatment. There's no reason to see a doctor or go to the Emergency Department unless you're severely ill or you have a pre-existing condition.
- For example, you have trouble breathing or you have an underlying condition, such as diabetes, pregnancy, heart disease or lung disease, such as asthma. Children with neuromuscular conditions may also be prone to severe illness from this novel flu virus.
- For people who do have an underlying condition, it's important to be seen promptly if you get a fever. That could make the difference between being severely ill and recovering well.
- For people at risk for complications or who become severely ill from the flu, treatment in the first 48 hours can make a big difference in hastening your recovery.
Emergency Warning Signs
If you elect not to see your provider initially, but develop any of the following warning signs, seek medical care immediately.
• Fast breathing or trouble
• Bluish or gray skin color
• Not drinking enough fluids
• Fever with a rash
• 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
• Difficulty breathing or shortness
• Pain or pressure in the chest or
• Sudden dizziness
• Severe or persistent vomiting
• Flu-like symptoms improve but
then return with fever and
What to expect when you visit the hospital
If you come to the medical center as a patient with a fever and symptoms of the flu (coughing, sneezing, running nose), you will be asked to cover your cough and to wear a mask for the protection of our staff and other patients, while you wait to be seen.
If admitted, you will be placed on isolation precautions. Staff will wear masks and may wear gowns and gloves when they come into your room. This is to protect them and the next patient they work with. Your visitors will be provided with masks as well. If you leave your room, you will be required to wear a mask.
You may have your access limited or restricted, depending on the severity of influenza in the medical center and the surrounding community. Restrictions may include:
- Immediate family only
- Limitations on the number of family visiting
- Restriction of hours
- Requirements to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (such as gowns, gloves or masks) to protect yourself and others from the flu
- Requirements for screening (temperature, signs and symptoms of respiratory illness) before visitation
Again, these limitation and restrictions would be in place to protect you, your loved ones, our staff and physicians. For information regarding flu season visitation effective November 2, 2009, click here.
Frequently Asked Questions
For a list of frequently asked questions and their answers, click here.
Additional Links for Information
For more information on seasonal flu and H1N1, visit the following Web sites:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Occupational Safety and Health
Tennessee Department of Health