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Jan. 30, 2014 Volume 35, No. 17

Follow preventive measures during winter flu season

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One way to help avoid catching the flu is to wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. iStock photo

As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report widespread influenza throughout most of the country, University of Missouri Health Care infectious disease expert Dr. Michael Cooperstock encourages people to get vaccinated and take simple steps to avoid catching and spreading the flu.

“We’re currently seeing H1N1 as the most common type of flu affecting people here in mid-Missouri and across the United States,” said Cooperstock, medical director of  MU Health Care’s infection control department and a pediatric infectious disease specialist at MU Children’s Hospital. “Fortunately, this year’s seasonal flu vaccine protects against H1N1, so I strongly advise people to get a flu shot or intranasal mist if they haven’t already been vaccinated.”

H1N1 is a type of flu that first appeared in spring 2009, causing cases of severe illness but fading in prevalence until this 2013–14 flu season. Unlike typical flu strains, which usually affect people older than 65 the hardest, Cooperstock said H1N1 seems largely to affect infants, children and young adults.

“We believe that many of the older people who typically are most affected by the flu already have some partial protection from this virus,” Cooperstock said. “H1N1 probably resembles a similar strain that older people were exposed to in the past. However, it’s still recommended that everyone — young or old — be vaccinated against flu.”

Symptoms of the H1N1 flu are the same as seasonal flu. Typically, patients experience rapid onset of a high fever that is usually accompanied by a severe headache. Other symptoms of influenza include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, chills and fatigue.

Most people with H1N1 or seasonal flu recover on their own and do not require medical care. However, influenza can cause serious illness and even death in persons at high risk due to chronic health conditions, for example those with suppressed immune systems or with pre-existing respiratory conditions.

“The best way to avoid spreading the flu is to stay home when you are sick,” Cooperstock said. “If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay at home for more than 24 hours after your fever is gone and you have stopped using fever-reducing medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.”

Additional steps that can help reduce the spread of influenza include:

Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and then throwing the tissue away. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve at the crook of your arm.

Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.

Use a hand sanitizer containing alcohol if you can’t wash your hands.

Avoid touching your eyes, mouth or nose, which are places where flu usually enters the body.

Avoid close contact with people who are ill.

However, the most effective way to prevent influenza is to be vaccinated. Cooperstock said that just about anyone over the age of 6 months can receive the vaccine.

“For some time it was thought that those with allergies to eggs could not receive the vaccine because it is developed in embryonic eggs,” Cooperstock said. “However, recent studies have shown that in most cases those with nonsevere reactions to eggs can receive the vaccine. Anyone with concerns about their ability to be vaccinated should consult with their physician. If you indeed are a candidate, you should receive the vaccine. It is not too late.”

To receive a flu shot, make an appointment with your primary care physician. To find a university physician, visit