What to expect of the flu

Summer is not supposed to be the flu season in Michigan. Yet, we continue to see cases of Influenza A H1N1 (formerly swine flu) being diagnosed throughout the state and within the communities that host our three campuses.The most recent example came earlier this week when physicians at the University Health Service treated about a dozen students attending a summer camp on the Ann Arbor campus. All had become ill with flu-like symptoms and all were immediately treated and isolated from other summer campers.We have every reason to believe there will be more cases diagnosed during the coming months as we head into the normal flu season this fall and winter.Federal, state and local health data show that the continuing level of presumed H1N1 illness is comparable in both scope and severity to what we would normally see with the typical seasonal flu. The difference now is that this is a new virus, for which we have no inherent immunity or vaccine. Still, it is important to neither over-react nor under-react to the situation. As of this writing the number of confirmed and probable cases of H1N1 flu throughout the state stands at 655, with seven deaths. These numbers reflect a low estimate of illness, since testing for H1N1 is now limited to those who require hospitalization. There are likely tens of thousands who have had mild to modest illness in the state.Many of the most seriously ill flu patients are being transferred from across the state to the U-M Medical Center because of our role as a major center for treating severe lung failure. The availability of specialized equipment and advanced-care treatments put our hospitals at the forefront of caring for complicated H1N1 influenza cases. Because of this, our colleagues in the Health System have been bearing substantial stress when called upon to care for these very ill individuals.

Take precautions

One of the most important things for all of us to do is to take seriously the kinds of common-sense precautions we all have heard:

  • Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly using soap or hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your nose and eyes directly.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve—not your hand.
  • Use tissues and dispose of them properly.

While these measures may seem basic to most of us, they are very important and they really do work to control the spread of the flu or other illnesses.

Stay home when ill

If you or any of your co-workers become sick with a flu-like illness, the best thing to do is to use sick time or paid time off to stay home until you get better. Typically that means 7 days or until you are free of symptoms for 24 hours—whichever is longer. Self-isolation for this 7-day period helps to minimize the spread of the disease and also helps those who become ill to recover faster. It is also a courtesy to your co-workers (who have been within 6 feet of you while you were ill or for the 24 hours prior to becoming ill) to notify them if your doctor has told you that you probably have H1N1. This will allow them to be alert for the symptoms and to consult their personal physicians if they have an underlying health problem.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines flu-like illness this way: A fever of 100.4F or greater, plus a cough or sore throat and possibly other symptoms like runny nose, body aches, headaches, chills, fatigue, vomiting or diarrhea.Because the flu has been mild in severity, most who become ill will recover without medical care. Those with underlying health conditions (severe asthma, diabetes, HIV disease) or those who are considered high risk should seek treatment from their personal health care provider.The CDC considers individuals in these groups to be at high risk:

  • All children under age 5.
  • All persons age 65 or older.
  • Children and adolescents receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who might be at risk for experiencing Reye syndrome after influenza virus infection.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Nursing home residents.

Be prepared

Preparation is paramount and this summer is the perfect opportunity to review contingency plans. Be prepared by reconfirming alternative child care options should you need them in the event of an illness; exploring options with your supervisor for working from home if needed; and understanding your role in your workplace’s emergency preparedness plan.

Leave a comment: