Flu season is here, and although more than 900 deaths due to the H1N1 virus have been reported nationwide, the severity of this illness appears comparable to seasonal influenza. Kentucky reported its first swine flu-associated death in early September, involving a Fayette County woman in her 50s who had underlying health conditions, and its second death of a Jefferson County woman in her 40s with no underlying health conditions. The Department of Public Health (DPH) is also investigating whether the death of a Caldwell County teenager may have been associated with H1N1.
Most flu viruses and colds have a one to seven day incubation period. The incubation period is the time between exposure to the virus and illness. A person is considered contagious one day before feeling ill and seven days after becoming sick or 24 hours after a person is better, whichever is longer. This means that you can be exposed to the virus by a person who feels fine. One of the easiest ways to prevent getting sick is by "social distancing," a method of controlling your physical interaction with your network of family, friends, and work colleagues. During times of great concern, you might consider the following tips when interacting with others:
- Do not attend big events, such as concerts, sporting events, church services, and extracurricular activities at school.
- Avoid shaking hands with people.
- Stand 6-7 feet away from others. This is a further distance than normal, but it is the safest way to avoid being sneezed or coughed on.
General ways to reduce your exposure to cold and flu are the following:
- Wash your hands frequently. When you're washing your hands, make sure you wash the top of your hands and in between your fingers. It should take about 15-20 seconds, or the same amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday."
- Keep your hands off your face. Virus' spread when germs from your hands reach your nose, eyes, and/or mouth.
- Sneeze and cough into your elbow, not into your hands. This will keep the flu and cold germs off the items and people you contact.
These are good ways for reducing your chances of acquiring the flu or a cold, but what if you have already contracted a virus or are demonstrating symptoms?
- Stay home. If you're not feeling well, avoid school, work, and other functions or events where you will come into contact with people.
- Drink plenty of fluids. If you are running a temperature you could become dehydrated, so drink extra water and juice.
- Contact your doctor to determine if an anti-viral medication might be warranted. Visit your doctor if symptoms worsen. He or she may prescribe antibiotics if you have a secondary bacterial infection. Remember, antibiotics have no impact on viruses.
The Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) encourages Kentuckians to call a new toll-free hotline with their questions related to H1N1 influenza and seasonal flu for the latest news and information. The toll-free number is 1(877)843-7727 (8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily). Information on the H1N1 virus is also available by visiting http://healthalerts.ky.gov/. For more information about pandemic flu, visit the HES pandemic flu website. Additional information about social distancing is also available from the CDC.