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Monday, October 12, 2009

Family Member Has the Flu? Here’s What to Do

Guest blogger Matthew Hoffman, MD, has written for WebMD since 2006. He is a board-certified internist and is currently a fellow in pulmonary and critical care medicine at Emory University, where he also completed medical school and residency.

We continue to receive excellent questions from our readers about flu concerns. Here’s the answer to a recent anonymous blog comment:

“My 16-year-old brother was just diagnosed with swine flu. My sister, her three kids (under the age of 10), and I were around him before he found out that he had it. Do we need to go get tested just in case we have got it and should we contact the schools that the kids attend?”

Your brother most likely caught the H1N1 virus a few days (up to 7) before feeling sick. You didn’t mention which symptoms he had, but most people experience some combination of the typical H1N1 flu symptoms:

  • Fever with or without chills
  • Body aches, headaches, and/or joint pain
  • Cold-like symptoms (cough, sore throat, and runny nose)
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea)

I expect your brother felt pretty ill. At that point you could have helped prevent H1N1 spread by frequent hand washing (by everyone in the household) and your brother following good “sneeze hygiene” – covering his nose and mouth and avoiding getting secretions on his hands.

Like seasonal flu, H1N1 is probably no longer infectious after seven days have passed from the first symptoms. The catch is, people infected with H1N1 can pass it to other people one day before feeling any symptoms. It sounds as if several people in your family may have been exposed to H1N1. Anyone who actually caught the H1N1 virus will start feeling ill within a week after the exposure.

There’s no need for anyone who’s been in contact with your brother to get tested for H1N1 flu, if they’re not feeling sick. It’s also not necessary to contact the children’s schools. However, if anyone does start to feel ill, they should stay home from work or school until their symptoms have gone away or one week has passed. Your doctor might prescribe antiviral medication like Tamiflu or Relenza, which may reduce flu symptoms somewhat.

H1N1 influenza vaccine should be available very soon – you can call your doctor or pharmacy to find out if they have it yet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the following high-risk groups get H1N1 vaccine:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who live with or care for infants less than 6 months old
  • Health-care workers
  • People between 6 months and 24 years old
  • People 25-64 with chronic medical conditions, especially lung conditions

In the vast majority of people who catch H1N1 flu, the symptoms will pass in an uncomfortable week or so, without any complications.

Posted by: Matthew Hoffman, MD at 9:03 am