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Influenza in Maine

January 9 - Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses and can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with chronic conditions are at high risk for serious flu complications, including:

· People with asthma

· People with diabetes

· People with heart disease and those who have had strokes

· Adults 65 years of age and older

· Pregnant women

· People who have HIV or AIDS

· Children younger than 5 but especially children younger than 2

Most people who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that result in being hospitalized and occasionally result in death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications.

The flu also can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

Influenza symptoms include fever, cough, body aches, headache, chills, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Some people with the flu may not have a fever.

Influenza is spread mainly by droplets made when people cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Or a person may get the flu from touching something that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own nose, mouth or eyes. People with the flu can shed the virus and infect others from one day before getting sick to five to seven days after.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. Other methods of preventing the flu include:

1. Avoid close contact.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

2. Stay home when you are sick.

If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.

3. Cover your mouth and nose.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

4. Clean your hands.

Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

6. Practice other good health habits.

Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

If you have a high risk condition and you get the flu, early treatment with flu antiviral medications is important. Antiviral drugs are prescription medications that can be used to treat the flu. Swift treatment with antiviral drugs in someone with a high risk condition can mean the difference between experiencing mild symptoms at home instead of suffering a very severe illness that could result in a hospital stay. Studies show that these drugs work best when they are started within 2 days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high risk health condition or is very sick from the flu.

Antiviral medications are not a substitute for vaccination. Annual flu vaccination is the first and best way to prevent the flu, but if you do get sick with the flu, antiviral medications are a second line of defense to treat the flu. Antiviral medicines can be prescribed by a physician to help make flu illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. Antiviral drugs may prevent serious flu complications. If you have a high risk medical condition and develop flu-like symptoms, check with your physician promptly.

PVH does request patients that may be coming in to the hospital or healthcare providers’ offices with a fever and cough to please wear a mask to help contain the virus; masks are available at each entrance and registration desk. Let’s all commit to practicing good hand hygiene and masking to help prevent the spread of the flu this season. 

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