Question and answer: Early flu season — what you need to knowFlu season is in full swing two months early this year — and nearly all the cases are the new swine flu strain that so far is targeting mostly children and younger adults.
By: Lauran Neergaard, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Flu season is in full swing two months early this year — and nearly all the cases are the new swine flu strain that so far is targeting mostly children and younger adults.
Here are answers to some questions about what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts will be a busy and long flu season.
Q: Where’s the vaccine, and how many shots will I need?
A: Many people will need to line up twice. One vaccine protects against regular winter flu, and that vaccine’s available now. A separate vaccine to protect against swine flu — the 2009 H1N1 strain — will arrive in October. It appears that adults will need one dose of that vaccine; dose studies are under way in children to see whether they’ll need a booster.
Q: Who’s at highest risk of severe illness or even death?
A: Children younger than 5. Pregnant women. People 65 or older. And people of any age with asthma or other lung disorders; diabetes; heart, kidney, liver or blood disorders; neurodevelopmental disorders such as cerebral palsy; or a weakened immune system.
Q: I think I had swine flu over the summer. Do I still need the vaccine?
A: Yes, says CDC flu specialist Dr. Anne Schuchat. Other viruses mimic flu so it’s hard to be sure what you had.
Q: How does swine flu affect children, and what symptoms should prompt a race to the pediatrician?
A: Symptoms are the same regardless of age: Fever, aches, cough, sore throat, sneezing or runny nose, sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.
The CDC says to seek immediate care if a child has difficulty breathing or is breathing fast, turns bluish, isn’t drinking enough fluids, has severe vomiting, is hard to wake up or lethargic, or is so irritable the child doesn’t want to be held.
Q: What are emergency signs for an adult?
A: Difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest of abdomen, dizziness, confusion, severe vomiting or a rebound fever.
Q: Won’t I or my child need those anti-flu medicines, Tamiflu or Relenza?
A: No, most won’t, stresses CDC’s Schuchat. Most people will recover with rest and fluids — don’t get dehydrated.
But people at high risk should make a plan with their doctor now, before they’re sick, Schuchat advises. They may need Tamiflu within the first 48 hours of symptoms, and some doctors may agree to an advance prescription if they promise to call with symptoms — saving time and exposing others in the waiting room.
Q: Someone’s sick in my office. How long until I know if I caught it?
A: Up to a week.
Q: Do I have an obligation to notify my friends or employer if I or my child get sick?
A: “Of course you tell your friends,” especially if you’ve been around someone who’s at high risk, says Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University. Treat flu like any other easy-to-spread illness. Families normally tell the school and playmates when a child gets strep throat, for example. Employers must weigh privacy requirements but certainly can advise that flu has hit the office.
Q: My child was told to bring hand sanitizer to school and use it regularly. Is there any concern with that?
A: Nope, says the CDC. It shouldn’t be more drying to skin than soap. Just keep the whole bottle away from toddlers who might try to swallow it.