Seasonal Flu: Frequently Asked Questions
What is H1N1 or Swine flu and how is it different than seasonal flu?
Seasonal and H1N1 flu are members of the influenza class of viruses. H1N1 is an influenza virus that has animal, avian, and human genes. It contains genetic information that most humans have never been exposed to; this creates the potential for an illness that can infect more people than seasonal flu, especially people under 40 years of age. Seasonal flu is a group of viruses established in the human population that change (mutate) year to year and causes human illness mostly in the winter season. H1N1 flu is causing more serious illness among children and younger people, whereas the seasonal flu is typically more severe among older people.
How can I keep from getting the seasonal flu?
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each year. This year two vaccinations will be needed, one for H1N1 and one for seasonal flu. Other precautions one can take to reduce the risk of getting the flu are:
• Wash hands often with soap and water
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people
• Don’t share food or objects with people who are sick.
How do I take care of myself if I think I have the seasonal flu?
Stay home and rest if you have flu symptoms. Stay home until you have been fever free without taking fever-reducing medication for at least 24 hours. Other steps you can take if you get the flu include:
• Drink plenty of fluids
• Take pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to control fever
• Minimize contact with others.
• Always cover your coughs and sneezes
• Wash your hands frequently, don’t share food, objects or shake hands with others.
How do I know when I should call the doctor or seek medical care for the flu?
People who fall into the high risk groups including pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, and children less than two years of age, should call the doctor as soon as they have any flu symptoms. Most healthy people who do not fall into these risk groups will not need any medical treatment to recover from the flu. You must use your judgment to determine when to call or go see your health care provider. The doctor should be called immediately if a sick person has rapid or difficulty breathing, blue or gray skin, chest or abdominal pressure, dizziness, confusion, extreme irritability or drowsiness, severe or persistent vomiting or diarrhea, or if flu symptoms improve but then return.
Do I need medications to recover from the flu?
People who fall into higher risk groups including pregnant women, people with chronic diseases, and children under two, should ask their doctor about the need for anti-viral or other medications when they have fever and cough. Most people will not need special medications to recover from the flu. Comfort measures such as acetaminophen, decongestants, and cough drops may help you feel better. Do not use cold medicines for children under 12 years of age. Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers who have the flu as this can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome.
What should I do to prevent the spread of the flu if I’m caring for someone with the flu?
To help prevent the spread of the flu when you are caring for someone who is sick:
• Keep the sick person in a room separate from the common areas of the house.
• Keep others in the home away from the person who is sick.
• You and others should stay at least six feet away from the sick person if possible.
• Consider having the sick person wear a face mask.
• People who are sick should cough or sneeze into a tissue or their elbow joint.
• Caregivers should wash hands thoroughly with soap and water each time they enter and leave the sick room.
• Clean surfaces and objects touched by the sick person with routine household cleaners.
• Do not share food, dishes, towels or other objects used by the sick person with others.
Does the seasonal flu vaccine provide protection against the H1N1 flu?
No. The vaccine for the 2009-2010 seasonal flu does not provide protection against the H1N1 virus. There are separate vaccines for H1N1 flu and seasonal flu. The seasonal flu vaccine that will be available for the 2010-2011 flu season will protect against both the seasonal flu and the pandemic H1N1 flu.
Who should get a seasonal flu vaccination?
CDC recommends that people who should get vaccinated each year are:
• Children aged six months up to their 19th birthday
• Pregnant women
• People 50 years of age and older
• People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
• People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu.
Where can I get a seasonal flu vaccination?
It is best to go to your regular health care provider to obtain flu vaccinations. The Public Health Department will be offering seasonal flu vaccination clinics. The availability of seasonal flu vaccine will impact the number of vaccination clinics.
When should I get a seasonal flu vaccination?
What if I can’t afford the vaccination or medical care for the flu?
It is best to get the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it is available.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department will provide vaccination and flu care services to eligible lower-income people for no cost.