Healthy Aging

healthy aging

A New Flu Should Encourage Old Healthy Habits

As this column on Healthy Aging is being written, the verdict is still out on whether Influenza A (H1N1), better known as “Swine Flu,” is as worrisome as earlier feared. 

Swine flu and older adults

Some news reports have debated whether Influenza A (H1N1) would become “pandemic,” meaning widespread around the world. Other news reports debated whether the virus would become unusually deadly. On the other hand, other news reports have debated whether Influenza A (H1N1) would simply become just another unique strain of influenza virus.

More importantly, the Influenza A (H1N1) outbreak has spawned awareness, refreshing the public’s knowledge about how to prevent and treat influenza. This knowledge is vital because “regular seasonal influenza” is a huge problem for people who are elderly or have chronic diseases that make them vulnerable to the flu. Seasonal flu generally runs its course during the winter, killing approximately 30,000 people each year in the United States.

Spread and Prevention of Influenza

Influenza is a virus that is highly transmissible — meaning that it is very easy for someone to pass it to someone else. It is transmitted through the air and by touching something or someone with the virus. It enters the body through the nose, eyes and mouth. Understanding how the virus is transmitted helps people know how to prevent getting it.

Following are a few prevention tips:

  • If you are sick, stay away from other people to prevent spreading it.
  • If you are well, stay away from people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, cough or sneeze into a tissue, then quickly dispose of it.
  • Do not cough or sneeze on your hands then touch someone else.
  • Regardless of whether you are well or sick, you should frequently sanitize hands with alcohol preparations (sanitizing fluid). 
  • Do not put your fingers or hands on your mouth, eyes or nose.
  • Stay at least six feet away from people who are sneezing or coughing.
  • Stay at least six feet away from people who have or could have the flu.
  • Avoid travel to areas where it is publicized that the flu is endemic.
  • Take the seasonal “flu shot” every year as a preventive strategy, even though Swine Flu immunity will not be conferred from the vaccine for this year. (Industries and world governments are working on a vaccine that will protect against Swine Flu, but it is not available yet.)  

How do I know if I have the flu, and in particular, Swine Flu?

It is hard to imagine that the readers of this column have not had “the flu” more than once in their lives. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize the symptoms of seasonal flu and Swine Flu — symptoms are almost identical for both. Usually, people who have the flu have come into contact with someone else who has experienced the onset of flu symptoms within seven days. Flu symptoms include body aches, fever, coughing, lack of energy, and lack of appetite. Swine Flu symptoms also include diarrhea and nausea. Diagnosis is made by a physician who can run a “swab” test at an office. The test is often sent to a remote laboratory, which requires several days for a result. 

Treatment of all Influenza

Rest, good diet, plenty of fluids, pain relievers, and physician ordered medications such as Tamiflu or Relenza are effective treatments of influenza. If fever is severely high, a trip to the doctor is indicated. Because the flu can progress and cause life threatening complications, it is important to stay in touch with a physician. 

Stay educated about this age-old health problem, especially with the new Influenza A (H1N1) strain. Always practice the preventive measures mentioned above for the all forms of the flu — it is part of healthy aging.

MUSChealth.com Online Resources:
MUSC Video Library: Influenza
MUSC Health Information Library: Influenza

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