WebMD Medical Editor Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH, sat down with Susan Rehm, MD, the medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID), for insights into this year’s flu season. Rehm also shared results of a recent NFID survey on the flu.
What are the highlights of the NFID survey?
Although Americans understand that the flu is a serious illness and the flu vaccine is very important to prevent it, 41% don’t realize that people can be contagious before symptoms start. Symptoms of the flu can start between 1 to 4 days after you are exposed. During that window you could be spreading the virus to others around you. Hand-washing can help stop the flu from spreading person to person.
Remember flu symptoms using the word FACTS:
- sudden onset
Who’s at risk this season?
Everyone is at risk. Nearly all the virus this season circulating is a strain called pH1N1. It’s also known as swine flu. It first started circulating in 2009 and became a pandemic strain that young adults and children are particularly vulnerable to. It may be that older adults may have partial immunity from exposure to a related virus years ago.
Last year 169 children died, most of whom were healthy to start. This has led CDC to recommend everyone 6 months and older, including pregnant women, get vaccinated for the flu.
If you do get sick, call your doctor. You may benefit from antiviral medicines like Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir), especially if you start it within 48 hours of feeling ill. Surprisingly, 59% of Americans do not realize there are prescription medicines available.
How long am I contagious?
When you are sick with the flu it’s very important to stay home. It is no good to expose people in the office or at school. You can return to work after you are fever-free for 24 hours.