The number of people sick with the flu has increased sharply across the country and influenza is now widespread in 36 states, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The American Red Cross has steps people can follow to help prevent the spread of the flu.
Three pediatric deaths have been attributed to the flu during the week of December 17-23 and outpatient visits to medical facilities for flu-like illness was above the national standard.
Flu vaccine is the best available way to protect against influenza. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an injectable flu vaccine as soon as possible. To help stop the spread of influenza:
- Stay home if you’re sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
- Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol based hand-sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- If traveling, handle your own belongings. Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Carry hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial wipes with you. You can use them to wash your hands or wipe down surfaces such as armrests.
- Bring your own pillows and blankets – they can act as a shield against the seat itself.
THE FLU AND GIVING BLOOD Despite seasonal illnesses, the need for blood remains constant. Donors who are healthy and feeling well are asked to schedule donation appointments and invite others to do the same.
Individuals who are not feeling well on the day of donation will be deferred from giving blood. Those who have the flu should wait until they no longer have flu symptoms, have recovered completely and feel well before attempting to donate. Blood donors must feel healthy and well on the day of donation.
You can give blood after receiving the influenza vaccine if you are symptom-free and meet all other eligibility requirements. Neither the flu shot nor the intranasal vaccine is cause for a blood donation deferral, because there is no risk of transmitting influenza after receiving the vaccines.
DO I HAVE THE FLU? The common signs of influenza are high fever, severe body aches, headache, being extremely tired, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, and vomiting and/or diarrhea (which is more common in children). If you think you have the flu, call your health care provider. Seek immediate care if you have any of these symptoms:
- Fast breathing, trouble breathing or bluish skin color.
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen (adults).
- Confusion or sudden dizziness.
- Not drinking enough fluids, not being able to eat, or severe or persistent vomiting.
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough.
- Not waking up, being so irritable that the child does not want to be held or not interacting (children).
- Fever with a rash (children).
- No tears when crying or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal (children).
CARING FOR SOMEONE WITH THE FLU If someone in your household does come down with the flu, the Red Cross wants you to know the best way to care for them:
- Designate one person as the caregiver and have the other household members avoid close contact with that person so they won’t become sick.
- Make sure the person stays at home and rests until 24 hours after the fever is gone.
- Designate a sick room for the person if possible.
- Keep the following either in the sick room or near the person: tissues, a trash can lined with a plastic trash bag, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, a cooler or pitcher with ice and drinks, a thermometer and a cup with straw or squeeze bottle to help with drinking.
- Keep everyone’s personal items separate. All household members should avoid sharing pens, papers, clothes, towels, sheets, blankets, food or eating utensils unless cleaned between uses.
- Disinfect doorknobs, switches, handles, computers, telephones, bedside tables, bathroom sinks, toilets, counters, toys and other surfaces that are commonly touched around the home or workplace.
- Wash everyone’s dishes in the dishwasher or by hand using very hot water and soap.
- Wash everyone’s clothes in a standard washing machine as you normally would. Use detergent and very hot water, tumble dry on a hot dryer setting and wash your hands after handling dirty laundry.
- Wear disposable gloves when in contact with or cleaning up body fluids.
About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.