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Don’t Let The Flu Get You

Seasonal influenza arrives every fall, but the new flu bug that began circulating last spring has kept the flu in the headlines ever since. This winter we’re at risk not just from the ordinary flu but also H1N1, a novel strain of swine flu that was first identified in April 2009.


Grim media reports tell the story of 3,900 U.S. deaths—a midrange estimate from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)—from H1N1 between April and Oct. 17, 2009. As tragic as any such death is, the average annual death toll in the U.S. from seasonal flu is about 36,000, the CDC says.


Bottom line: Influenza, no matter what variety, can be deadly and is particularly dangerous to certain susceptible people.


This report outlines the difference between H1N1 and seasonal flu, offers tips on staying healthy, and explains what to do if you or someone you know comes down with the virus.



What Is The Flu?

Influenza is an infectious viral disease that attacks the respiratory system—the nose, throat and lungs. It usually causes fever, coughing, sore throat, runny nose, headaches, muscle aches, chills and fatigue.


We’ve seen outbreaks of swine flu before, but H1N1 is a completely new strain. It can cause all of the symptoms listed above. Some people also experience vomiting and diarrhea. And although fever is typical of the flu, an estimated 10 to 50 percent of those infected with H1N1 don’t get a fever.


Some people are especially at risk of developing serious complications from the flu—pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and even death. Susceptible populations include:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children under age 5
  • People with asthma, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDs, heart or kidney disease
  • People with certain kinds of arthritis (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis and lupus)

Seasonal flu poses greater risks for people over age 65, but H1N1 appears to be much more of a threat to the young.



Myths About H1N1

Plenty of myths about H1N1 have proliferated since the bug appeared. Here’s the truth about some common ones.


Myth: Swine flu is less severe than regular flu.

Fact: Most cases of seasonal flu and H1N1 are relatively mild and do not require a visit to the doctor or the emergency room. But deaths can and do occur with all forms of influenza, even in people who were formerly healthy.


Myth: Having a seasonal flu shot can give you a case of H1N1.

Fact: The CDC highly recommends getting a seasonal flu shot. The only thing you’ll catch is improved immunity against seasonal flu.


Myth: You can catch H1N1 flu from eating or touching pork.

Fact: There’s no evidence to suggest that this could occur. In any case, pork should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, which kills germs of any kind that can live on raw meat.


Myth: The H1N1 vaccine isn’t safe. There’s less risk from the disease itself.

Fact: This fear is probably based on the fact that about 10 people per million who were vaccinated against swine flu in the 1970s developed a sometimes fatal paralytic condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome. But the risk of dying from the flu is much higher than the odds of getting Guillain-Barré—and the syndrome is much more likely to be caused by the flu than by a flu shot.



Avoid Getting Sick—Or Infecting Others

Mom was right about the importance of washing your hands. Regular hand washing is one of the best strategies for staving off the flu.


To do the job right, wash your hands with soap and warm water, cleaning both sides, between your fingers, and under your nails. If soap and water aren’t available, hand sanitizers made with at least 60 percent alcohol are also effective.


Clean your hands regularly—and always after shaking hands, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, being in a store or other public place, caring for someone who is sick, or using other people’s tools.


Keep a supply of tissues available, using them to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough. Throw used tissues away immediately. If you don’t have a tissue, cough into the crook of your elbow, not your hands. Avoid touching your face, especially after you’ve been in contact with other people or surfaces that might carry germs.


If you think you might be sick, stay home. If you must go out, for instance, to buy over-the-counter medicine or visit the doctor, wear a face mask to avoid sharing your germs.



Are Vaccinations Recommended?

Should you be vaccinated against seasonal flu and H1N1? In a word, yes. According to the CDC, immunization is still the No. 1 strategy for preventing the flu.


In late November 2009 supplies of H1N1 vaccine were still not sufficient to vaccinate everyone who might want immunization, but additional doses were expected to be distributed each week. Children, pregnant women, and others at high risk get first dibs.


Flu vaccines can be given as a nasal spray (containing attenuated, or weakened virus) and as an injection (containing killed virus). Sprays are recommended for healthy people ages 2 to 49 who are not pregnant. Shots are recommended for everyone else. People with a severe allergy to eggs should not get either vaccine.


Finally, because pneumonia can follow a bout of the flu, the CDC recommends that those who are 65 or over—or age 2 to 64 with high-risk health conditions—also be vaccinated against that disease. Ask your physician whether you should get the shot.



Caring For Someone With The Flu

For most people, the flu is a nuisance rather than a danger. The sick person should get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids, and stay apart from the rest of the household. Fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin can help reduce the discomfort. Never give aspirin to people 18 years old or under who have the flu. In rare cases it can cause a potentially fatal condition called Reye’s syndrome.


People who have had the flu should stay home until at least 24 hours after any fever (a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more) has passed—without the use of anti-fever medicines. Someone who thinks she’s had the flu but has not had a fever should call her physician for guidance.


Prescription anti-viral drugs (for example, Tamiflu) reduce the duration and severity of influenza if they’re taken within 48 hours of getting sick. They are recommended for people at high risk of complications from the flu.


If you or a person in your care develops any of the following signs, the CDC advises getting emergency help immediately:


Warning signs in children


  • Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
  • A bluish color to hands, feet or lips
  • Fever with a rash
  • Symptoms that seem to get better, then worse
  • Lack of interaction

Warning signs in adults

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Pain or pressure in chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Sudden or severe vomiting

What Business Owners Can Do

The following tips can help you protect your workers and safeguard your business.


  • Stay informed about the status of the flu in your area. Watch the Web sites of your state and county health departments, and know their contact information.
  • Be flexible about sick leave due to the flu—for employees who are sick or parents who must care for a sick child or stay home because of school closures. Sick employees may need three to five days at home or more. Whenever possible, allow employees who are sidelined to work from home.
  • Educate workers about proper hand washing and respiratory etiquette (the right way to contain a cough or sneeze). See the For More Information section at the end of this report for free printable posters as well as sample e-mail and text messages you can use.
  • Keep the office well stocked with soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, tissues and no-touch trash receptacles.
  • Encourage employees to assess their health every day before leaving for work. If they think they might be sick, they should stay home.
  • Cross train workers so that several people could handle essential duties if necessary.
  • Identify essential business functions and plan how your company could fulfill them if key staffers get sick. Talk with temp agencies now to determine whether they could provide the support you’d need.
  • Talk to suppliers about their own readiness to cope if they’re hit with the flu. Come up with a list of alternate suppliers whom you could call in as needed.
  • You can screen workers when they arrive and ask an employee who appears ill to go home immediately. If that’s not possible, have the worker remain in a low-traffic area until he can leave the building. Because of privacy laws, however, you cannot discuss an employee’s health with other workers.
  • It’s not lawful to require employees to get flu shots—but you can encourage them to get vaccinated. Allow workers time off to get shots, pay for the shots if insurance won’t, and consider offering shots on-site.
  • Keep surfaces clean—kitchen counters, work tables, doorknobs, and other common areas. Discourage employees from sharing keyboards, phones and other equipment. If they must be shared, institute a policy requiring each employee to clean equipment at the beginning of every shift. Ordinary cleaning products are sufficient to kill flu germs.
  • If necessary, increase social distance to reduce the spread of germs. Cancel unnecessary face-to-face meetings, space workers farther apart, and institute flexible schedules so fewer people are together at any given time.


For More Information

Get more information about avoiding and treating influenza at these Web sites.


Includes flu-shot locator, toolkits for business, and much more


Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Information to help businesses plan for the influenza season


Ready Business

A government site to help companies plan for emergencies

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