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Threat of Flu and Other Respiratory Problems Isnít Over

January 27, 2010

Now that fall and early winter are over, public concern about the flu seems to have subsided. And yet, the possibility still exists for people to come down with seasonal influenza, the dreaded H1N1 flu or another serious respiratory illness.

"Historically, the height of the flu season occurs right now, around the end of January. And, although our practice is seeing fewer cases of H1N1, it’s still possible for people to get sick with the virus," says Jason Chu, MD, a board certified pulmonologist and critical care specialist on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "That’s why it continues to be important for people to know how to prevent the flu and other respiratory diseases, as well as what to do when they or someone in their family gets sick."

At this time of year, people are often more vulnerable to respiratory conditions because they tend to be more rundown, explains Dr. Chu. In addition, cold, wet weather such as the recent rains contributes to the likelihood of individuals catching a virus or developing an infection.

On Tuesday, February 2, at 1 p.m., Dr. Chu will present "Influenza and Other Contagious Respiratory Conditions: How to prevent and when to treat" – part of Washington Hospital’s series of Health & Wellness seminars, which are free and open to the public. The class will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D., Auditoriums in the Washington West building at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. You can register online to attend this event by going to the Washington Hospital web site at www.whhs.com and looking under Upcoming Seminars.

"We’ll talk about how to recognize the signs and symptoms of community-acquired respiratory conditions, such as influenza and pneumonia, how to prevent them, and how to deal with them after they’ve been diagnosed," adds. Dr. Chu. "One key is to know when you can treat the symptoms yourself and when it’s time to see a doctor. I’ll share strategies and useful tips to help get people through this season and prepare them for future flu seasons. There will also be time for questions and answers."

Seasonal flu – still a major killer

The seasonal flu virus kills about 36,000 Americans every year. It is highly infectious, and it only takes between one and four days for a person to get sick once they’ve been exposed. The virus is most easily transmitted in places where people congregate, such as schools, workplaces or households in which another family member is sick. It exists in droplets that are airborne or live on surfaces that have been touched by other people who are already sick.

To help avoid getting the flu, people who are at high risk of getting flu-related complications, or those who live with or care for someone who is at high risk, should be vaccinated each year. The time for getting this season’s vaccine is over. However, there are antiviral medications that can be given during the early stages of the flu to lessen its severity. Other ways you can help prevent or transmit the flu include washing your hands or using hand sanitizers frequently, coughing or sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand, and not touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

"This season, the H1N1 flu epidemic caused a scare and was a real public health emergency," states Dr. Chu. "The Centers for Disease Control has worked around the clock to get information out about the H1N1 vaccine, and it is still available. The good news is that, in the last month, we’ve seen a decline in the number of people with the virus."

The symptoms of H1N1 are similar to the seasonal flu, although some people have also experienced bouts of diarrhea and even greater fatigue. Precautionary measures are the same.

"To help avoid exposing others, we tell our patients to limit their contact with people," adds Dr. Chu. "That includes staying home for at least a week after symptoms begin and for a minimum of one day after symptoms have ended."

Pneumonia – a more serious threat

Another common respiratory condition at this time of year is pneumonia, which kills more than 60,000 Americans each year.

"We are in the midst of the pneumonia season, and people should be aware that this illness is very serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly," reports Dr. Chu. "If not treated properly, it can lead to a blood borne infection or other severe complications."

The high season for pneumonia lasts until the end of February. People who are most susceptible are those with other underlying conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes. Unlike the flu, pneumonia can also be caused by bacteria.

At the seminar, Dr. Chu will describe the various signs and symptoms of this serious condition and emphasize the importance of seeing a doctor for medical assessment and treatment.

"At this time of year, it is fairly common for people to have what we call ‘walking pneumonia’ in which they are worn out and sick but continue to do their daily activities at school or work," says Dr. Chu.

"During the seminar, we’ll talk more about the various types of pneumonia, how to help prevent them and what to do if you are diagnosed. I think this information, along with the other topics we will cover, will make this session very worthwhile for everyone who attends."

Washington Urgent Care Offers Free H1N1 Shots

Washington Urgent Care is offering free H1N1 flu vaccines to all members of the community. Washington Urgent Care is located on the second floor at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. The clinic is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call (510) 791-CARE (791-2273) or visit www.whhs.com/urgentcare for more information.