Feverishly preparing for the flu season Health: What to do, what not to do, from an immunization expert.

December 09, 1997|By Lisa Lytle | Lisa Lytle,ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Sniffle.

Cough.

Sneeze.

Pass the tissues, please. The cold and flu season is upon us. And catching either illness is the last thing we need when there's so much to do. When we show up at work, everyone gives us the "you better-not-spread-whatever-you-have" look. When our kids show up sick at school or at the day-care center, they sometimes pass on their germs to others -- including their teachers.

It's miserable.

How can we avoid catching the cold or the flu? Dr. Gerald Wagner, a deputy health officer and medical director of an immunization program in California, offers information:

What's the difference between a cold and a flu?

With a cold, it's generally limited to the upper airways, and there's dripping of the nose. A flu is a more generalized kind of infection. You have the symptoms of the cold, but you also feel tired, achy, you have an elevated temperature and in some, the involvement of the whole body system.

How are colds and the flu transmitted?

They're transmitted the same way. They're airborne. If a person coughs, the virus can stay in the air for half an hour. But most of the colds and flus are spread better by hand-shaking or direct contact with an ill person, handling articles that that person has touched. You're less likely to get sick from touching the phone receiver or the ATM machine because most germs do not survive on dry surfaces.

Some people choose not to get a flu shot because they believe that they can develop flu after getting a vaccine. Is that true?

Not anymore. The manufacturing technology for the vaccines has been much better since the early '90s. The new vaccines are purified. It's a killed virus. You cannot get flu from the vaccine.

How long is the vaccine potent?

The vaccine begins to protect after one to two weeks and will last up to one year. Flu viruses change, so last year's vaccine won't give you protection.

One vaccine per year will suffice for people 9 and older, but children younger than 9 who are getting a shot for the first time may need a second vaccine after one month.

How do they know what kind of flu is going to appear each year?

The World Health Organization, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, examine virus activities. During the spring, they assess what kind of strains have been circulating and estimate what might be present for the coming year. They inform the drug companies of the prevalent strains so the vaccines can be developed. This year, the vaccines contain two influenza-A viruses, Johannesburg and Nanchang, and one influenza-B -- Harbin. There might be some partial crossover from one type of flu strain to protect another.

Who is at high risk for getting a serious case of influenza?

Those in the high-risk groups include:

All people 60 and older.

Residents of long-term care facilities housing people with chronic medical conditions.

Any child or adult, including a woman who is pregnant, who has heart disease, anemia, asthma, lung disease, kidney disease and diabetes and has had to see a doctor regularly or be admitted to the hospital in the past year.

People who are more susceptible to infections because of a disease since birth, HIV infection, treatment with drugs such as long-term steroids, cancer treatment with X-rays or drugs.

Children 6-18 who are on long-term aspirin treatment. They could develop Reye's syndrome, which can cause coma, liver damage and death, if they catch the flu.

People who provide health care to others.

Pregnant women going into their second or third trimester.

Aside from getting a flu shot, how can I avoid getting a cold or flu?

Avoid people who are ill; wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water. Do not touch your eyes, mouth or nose after shaking hands.

When is a person with the flu or cold most contagious?

He or she is most contagious at the early stages of infection.

What should I do if I have a cold or flu?

Generally, there's not a whole lot you can do. You need to maintain fluid intake and can take ibuprofen or other (over-the-counter) medications for pain relief, and other medications if congestion is a problem. Some doctors treat influenza with Amantadine.

Contact your doctor if symptoms persist for more than four to five days.

Parents or people caring for a child should contact the pediatrician if the child has a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, or if a fever does not abate after two days. They also should call a doctor immediately if there are any unusual symptoms in the child, or if the child is known to have febrile seizures, which are caused by high temperatures.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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