Swine Flu 101 for Senior Citizens

Oct 14th, 2009 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

The swine flu pandemic was officially announced early last June (2009) by WHO, the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.  Here are the basic questions most senior citizens are asking, and the simple-to-understand answers:

  • What is Swine Flu? This flu is one of many varieties of flu that have crossed the globe over the past several decades.  It is named after the ‘Swine’ species because the genes of this virus were thought to be similar to flu found in pigs; however, humans cannot contract the illness from pigs.  Its technical name is H1N1 virus.
  • What are the symptoms of H1N1 Flu Virus?  Symptoms of 2009 H1N1 flu virus in people include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people experience vomiting and diarrhea, and some do not have fever.
  • How far has it spread to date?  H1N1 has been found in over 75 countries around the world.  There are over 28,000 cases reported in the United States.  You can find out how severe the epidemic is in your area here:  http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/update.htm
  • How does somebody contract Swine Flu?  H1N1 flu virus is passed from one human to another, usually with physical contact, but it can also be by touching something that has the germs on it.  For example, (this gets a little gross, so hang in there please!) if I have Swine Flu, and I sneeze without a tissue to catch the spray, and I put my hands in front of my nose/mouth when I sneeze, the germs get on my hands; then, if you are standing there watching me, and shake my hands to say goodbye as you leave, the germs from my nose/mouth were deposited on my hands when I sneezed and I will undoubtedly pass them on to you when you shake my hands.  Once they are on your hands, they will stay there for hours unless you wash them off.  You are most likely to touch your nose or mouth and the germs have found a new body to infect.  Another way the germs get transmitted from one human to another is by indirect human contact.  That is, if (after I have sneezed) I turn the door knob to open a door, the germs will be deposited on the door knob if I haven’t carefully washed them off.  If you come along behind me and open the same door, the germs will be on your hands the next time you touch your hands to your nose or mouth, if you haven’t carefully washed them off.  Have you noticed the thread running through all this??  WASH YOUR HANDS FREQUENTLY!  USE A TISSUE TO CATCH YOUR SNEEZES AND THROW IT AWAY AFTER YOU SNEEZE!  Flu season is not a time to be frugal and save on tissue paper. 
  • What should I do if I get flu symptoms?  Ask your doctor what she/he wants you to do.  Some seniors are at high risk for serious problems if they become ill, and others are not.  Only your primary care physician knows what category you are in.
  • Should I get the H1N1 flu vaccine AND the seasonal flu vaccine?  Again, ask your primary care physician.  You and she/he are in the best position to decide what your individual needs are.
  • How likely am I to get Swine Flu?  No one knows.  But to some degree, it depends on your lifestyle and personal care habits.    Flu season just isn’t the time to be the belle of the ball and socialize a lot.  And it IS the season to develop really CAREful habits about washing your hands and knowing what you touch that might be full of germs.  I’m reminded of a real life experience that just might be helpful…  When I was Superintendent of a small school for emotionally disturbed children, flu season was approaching and my faculty was deeply concerned about everyone becoming as ill as they had been the previous year, and having to close down the school.  I had an in-service training program, in which we reviewed and practiced Hand-Washing 101.  They were all rolling their eyes at me and I simply insisted we all learn how to effectively wash our hands.  And we discussed how often we would do so daily, during flu season.  The results?  Not a single teacher was ill with flu during that season, although most of our students were out for several days with illness. 

So, you ask, what to do if you cannot wash your hands?  Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with you, and use it when you cannot find a washroom. 

Here’s the link to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website that updates daily.  You will find current information you need about H1N1 Flu as it could possibly affect you:  http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/general_info.htm



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