Swine Flu and the Elderly (cont.)

"Whenever possible, seniors should avoid anyone who might appear to have flu symptoms," advises Yoshikawa. "Washing your hands with disposable paper towels rather than shared cloth towels minimizes spread of the flu onto your hands and face."

Carrying alcohol-based hand gels and cleaning your hands whenever you go to public places may also help remove or kill the flu virus, Yoshikawa tells WebMD.

What type of treatment should a senior with swine flu follow? Can they take antivirals?

"If a senior comes down with symptoms compatible with a flu, they should see their doctor right away," Yoshikawa says. "Taking antivirals early in the course of the flu (preferably before all symptoms start but by 48 hours into the course of the infection) can reduce the severity of the disease." Antivirals can also help prevent flu and its complications.

The antivirals recommended as effective against H1N1 flu are oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza).

What precautions should caregivers of the elderly or those in retirement homes take to protect themselves from swine flu?

There are always universal precautions to help prevent the flu, says Leng. If you're seeing patients, make sure you wash your hands, and if you're caring for someone with flu symptoms, "you really need to wear a mask," Leng tells WebMD.

Additionally, in a retirement community setting, "if someone gets flu-like symptoms, I would suggest they stay in their own apartment, and if diagnosed they really need to be isolated." Yet sometimes a senior may not realize they have flu-like symptoms. In that case the caretaker may want to take the extra step and get that person to seek care if they have symptoms, suggests Leng.

And as a caregiver you need to protect your patients by staying home if you become ill and avoiding especially those at high risk for complications from influenza.

If I follow the standard flu precautions will they help me avoid swine flu?

Yes they should, say the experts. The CDC recommends:

  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then throw the tissue away.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home if you get sick and limit your contact with others.

The CDC also advises avoiding crowds and heeding school advice about school closures. "These measures will continue to be important after a novel H1N1 vaccine is available because they can prevent the spread of other viruses that cause respiratory infections," says the CDC in a Q&A on the pending H1N1 vaccine.

What are the warning signs that I may need emergency medical care for swine flu?

If you do get the H1N1 virus, you may be sick for a week or longer, reports the CDC. They suggest staying home from work for at least seven days after symptoms begin, or until you've been symptom-free for 24 hours. If you experience any of these signs while having the flu, the CDC suggests seeking urgent medical care:


Joseph W. Stubbs, MD, FACP, president, American College of Physicians.

Aaron E. Glatt, MD, FACP, FIDSA, FSHEA, president and CEO, New Island Hospital; professor of clinical medicine, Bethpage, N.Y.

Sean X. Leng, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Thomas Yoshikawa, MD, professor of medicine, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA; editor-in-chief, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

CDC: "A Pandemic Is Declared," "Q&A: Novel H1N1 Influenza Vaccine," "What to Do If You Get Flu-Like Symptoms," "What Pregnant Women Should Know About H1N1 (Formerly Called Swine Flu) Virus." "Novel H1N1 Flu (Swine Flu) and You," "Influenza: The Disease," "What is Influenza (Also Called Flu)?"

World Health Organization: "What Is the New Influenza A(H1N1)?" "What Can I Do?" "Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Briefing Note 4," "Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Briefing Note 2."

PandemicFlu.gov: "H1N1 (Swine Flu) Immunization Campaign."

WebMD Medical Reference: "Flu Complications."

Reviewed on August 12, 2009

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Last Editorial Review: 10/21/2009 12:31:16 PM