Jeffrey Jahre, MD, St. Luke's Senior Vice President for Medical and Academic Affairs and Chief, Infectious Diseases, reminds the community that flu shots are still an effective way to prevent this year's flu strain.

Prevention:

"Prevention is always better than treatment," said Dr. Jahre. "Traditional flu strikes the very young, the very old and those with impaired immune systems. In order to help those populations avoid the flu, we recommend the flu shot for everyone. Children are usually adept at avoiding harsh flu symptoms because they have strong immune systems, but children shed flu germs over a longer incubation period and may infect an elderly relative or caregiver with a weaker immune system."

Flu shots are available throughout the St. Luke's Network – primary care offices are offering the vaccinations, as is St. Luke's Community Health Department by calling 484-526-2100.

Contagious nature of the flu:

Dr. Jahre continued, "Please be aware that adults with flu may be infectious a day or two before the onset of symptoms to about 24 hours after the fever has broken, which averages a week later. Children are typically infectious to others for a longer period of time than adults."

Flu vaccines are still available and are still effective in flu prevention for this season. The vaccine takes about 10 days to two weeks to establish immunity.

Although some people who have had the flu vaccine have caught the flu, medical data suggests that those people have experienced the symptoms to a lesser degree.

The flu is spread by mucus from the mouth or nose. Some very basic precautions should be observed, as with any infectious disease:

Ÿ Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

Ÿ Wash your hands often with soap and water or with alcohol based cleaners if not visible soiled.

Ÿ Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

Common Flu Symptoms:

High fever of 102 degrees or higher (this would differentiate from the common cold, which exhibits with low-grade fevers 101 degrees and lower)

Muscle / body aches

Dry cough

Weakness / fatigue

Headache

Sore throat

Runny or stuffy nose

Treatment:

Dr. Jahre recommends seeing a family physician or urgent care center as a first step if you or a family member feels ill. If an elderly or immuno-compromised person has flu symptoms, they may need to be seen in the emergency department.

The flu responds well to anti-virals like Tamiflu ® and Relenza ® for patients whose results are positive for the virus, according to the CDC. Patients are responding well to anti-virals as long as they are treated within the first 36- 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, explained Dr. Jahre. However, those medications are not currently recommended to be used as a routine preventive measure, according to Dr. Jahre, and should not be used as a substitute for the vaccine as a preventive measure.

For people without underlying or chronic health conditions who decide to "tough it out" at home with the flu, patients and families should do the following to help the patient feel more comfortable by treating the symptoms:

Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids

Don't leave home until you are free of symptoms, except to get medical care. Avoid public places, work and social gatherings.

Do not return to work until fever-free for 24 hours

Wash hands frequently, especially after coughing, nose-blowing or sneezing

Do not share hand towels, utensils, beverages, etc.

Wear a face mask if you need to be in a public place.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the following emergency warning signs for children, infants and adults who would need to seek emergency care immediately (Call 911):

Ÿ In children:

Fast breathing or trouble breathing

Bluish skin color

Not drinking enough fluids

Not waking up or not interacting

Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held

Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Fever with a rash

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

Being unable to eat

Has trouble breathing

Has no tears when crying

Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

Ÿ In adults

Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen

Sudden dizziness

Confusion

Severe or persistent vomiting

Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.