Archive for the ‘Flu’ Category

The Coming Flu Season

Friday, November 3rd, 2017
Is it the flu or a cold? This chart can help you decide.

Is it the flu or a cold? This chart can help you decide.

Are you ready for the coming flu season? “Down under” in Australia where it is springtime, the number of flu cases has doubled over last season’s total. Could that be an indication of what we might expect soon in the northern hemisphere? According to self-proclaimed flu-ologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “…the only thing that you can predict about influenza is that it’s going to be unpredictable.”1 When it comes to flu, a reasonably precautionary approach might just be the best approach.

First: Get Vaccinated

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu.” Scientists have known for some time that getting the vaccine can reduce flu illness, doctor visits, missed work and school, and flu-related hospitalizations. Now, a new study of children’s flu-associated deaths demonstrates that the vaccine significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying from the flu. The authors conclude that increasing flu vaccination could prevent flu-associated deaths among children and adolescents. How many children die of flu? The CDC reported 98 confirmed flu-associated pediatric deaths in the 2016-2017 season, which was characterized by “moderate” flu activity.

The Current Vaccine

There are many flu viruses. They change continually over time through minor genetic modification, and less frequently through abrupt genetic alteration. Flu vaccines are updated each year to match the viruses that are expected to be circulating that season. The hope is that the targeted viruses will not change so much after the vaccine is produced that the distributed vaccine will be ineffective.

This year’s vaccine will “differ slightly from last year’s formulation,” according to an article in The Journal of Family Practice. It will protect against three or four viruses depending on the vaccination given. While the evidence from several past seasons demonstrate that the flu vaccine’s effectiveness is not optimal, routine use still prevents much illness and death. For example, in the 2012-2013 flu season, vaccine effectiveness prevented an estimated 5.6 million illnesses, 2.7 million medical visits, 61,500 hospitalizations, and 1800 deaths, according to CDC.

CDC recommends everyone six months old and older get a flu vaccine before flu begins to spread through communities. Aim for getting your vaccine by the end of October (Vaccine before Halloween!2) to give the vaccine time (approximately two weeks) to develop maximum protection.

More Strategies for Avoiding Flu

Wash Your Hands: Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly is one of the most important ways to elude the flu. Flu virus particles are very good at hitching a ride from contaminated surfaces (door knobs and hand rails, for example) to your eyes, nose and mouth. Viruses can only spread by infecting new hosts, and they appreciate not being washed down the drain. Give them the slip with thorough hand washing (use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are unavailable), and keep your hands away from your face.

Disinfect Frequently Touched Surfaces: Destroy flu virus particles where they lurk to lower your odds of picking them up and becoming infected. Clean surfaces first with detergent and water and then sanitize using 2½ tablespoons of high strength household bleach (8.25%) per gallon of water or ¼ cup regular strength (5.25-6%) bleach. Alternatively, wipe down surfaces with disposable pre-moistened wipes containing chlorine bleach.

Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Get adequate sleep, maintain a healthy diet, stay hydrated and exercise regularly to keep your immune system on alert against flu and other infections.

Take a Sick Day: If you do get the flu, stay home and limit your contact with others. Cover your coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue and wash your hands after using tissues. Tissues not available? Cough or sneeze into your elbow to help prevent projecting thousands of infected mucous droplets into the air that others breathe! Keep your distance from those who appear to have flu symptoms but have opted to be out and about anyway.

Finally, are you curious as to where flu is spreading in the US? You can monitor flu activity by visiting CDC’s FluView. The website is updated weekly. Stay tuned and be ready for the coming flu season!

Ralph Morris, M.D., M.P.H., is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.


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1 Bloom, J., Sept. 8, 2017, “Flu 2017 – The Good News And the Bad News,” American Council on Science and Health. On-line, available:

2 See, for example, this video.

Blocking the Flu as You Watch the Big Football Game

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Are you ready for the big football game?  Are you ready for the flu virus if it shows up at your big game party?  This Sunday, as New England clashes with Seattle, your body may be up against its own formidable opponent—one that’s too small to be seen but packs a wallop.

Here are my “X’s and O’s” for blocking the flu on Sunday:

Sick?  Stay Home:  If you feel sick, enjoy the game alone.  Your friends will thank you and you can tune in to the plays in your pajamas!

Get a Flu Shot:  The annual seasonal flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months old and older. You may have heard that this year’s flu vaccine is only 23% effective, but not getting the vaccine takes that down to zero.  Getting a flu shot will prevent thousands of hospitalizations. The vaccine starts working about two weeks after you get it, so if you haven’t gotten it yet, it is not too late to help you ward off flu in the coming weeks.


Develop Your Flu Strategy

Friday, November 7th, 2014

flu schematic

Schematic illustration and magnification of an organism being infected with flu:  Influenza virus (circular object) attaches to a host membrane below, producing protein (blue kidney shaped object) to assist infection.

Photo courtesy of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Flu season is approaching rapidly. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that US flu related deaths can vary from 3,000 to 49,000 people depending on the year. The CDC recommends the following flu prevention tips :

  • Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccination
  • Wash your hands frequently to help reduce the spread of flu
  • Stay home if you are sick with the flu (CDC recommends you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone)
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, school or work, especially when someone is sick.
  • Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food

How Flu Spreads

The flu virus spreads by passing from one human host to another, either directly by close personal contact or indirectly through contact with an infected surface, such as a door knob or computer keyboard.  It is worth noting that the virus can live on an inanimate surface for approximately two to eight hours after being deposited.  According to CDC, for that reason, it is not necessary to close schools to clean or disinfect against the flu, as the virus dies on surfaces overnight.  Environments occupied around the clock, however, such as homes, eldercare or hospital facilities are subject to continual contamination.

Despite the short lifespan of a flu virus particle on a surface, there is ample opportunity for it to spread in all environments.  That is why frequently touched surfaces should be cleaned and sanitized or disinfected routinely, especially during flu season.

Cleaning and Disinfecting against Flu

Standard cleaning and disinfecting practices are sufficient to remove or kill flu viruses, which are relatively fragile microbes.  Remember:  cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting are all separate and distinct activities.  Cleaning physically removes dirt, grime and some germs; it does not necessarily kill them.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sanitizers reduce, but do not necessarily eliminate microorganisms from the inanimate environment to levels considered safe as determined by public health codes or regulations.   Disinfectants are used on hard inanimate surfaces and objects to destroy or irreversibly inactivate infectious fungi and bacteria but not necessarily their spores.  CDC notes that disinfection destroys most recognized pathogenic microorganisms but not necessarily all microbial forms (e.g., bacterial spores).  Depending on concentrations used, the following may be used as either sanitizers or disinfectants:  hypochlorites, including chlorine bleach, chlorine dioxide, iodophors, peroxyacetic acid and quaternary ammonium compounds.

Visibly soiled surfaces should be cleaned followed by sanitizing or disinfecting.  If a surface is not visibly soiled, products that claim to both clean and disinfect may be used.  Soiled surfaces must be cleaned with a general cleaner before they are sanitized or disinfected to avoid the sanitizer/disinfectant being depleted in the cleaning process.  Use EPA-registered sanitizers or disinfectants with labels that indicate their effective against Influenza A.  A fresh chlorine bleach solution may be used as a disinfectant according to these CDC directions:

  • Add one tablespoon of regular strength1 or two teaspoons of high strength2  bleach to one quart of water.  (For a larger supply of disinfectant, add ¼ cup of regular strength bleach or two and one-half tablespoons of high strength bleach to one gallon of water.)
  • Apply the solution to the surface with a cloth; Let the solution remain wet on the surface for 3-5 minutes.
  • Rinse the surface with clean water.

As with all chemical products, pay attention to hazard warnings and product directions.  Use gloves and eye protection as needed. Do not mix cleaners and disinfectants unless instructed to do so. Never mix chlorine bleach and ammonia as dangerous gases may result.

Getting Ready for the 2014-15 Flu Season

Understanding how flu spreads is key to developing your personal strategy for avoiding flu.  Have a strategy that is both proactive and reactive.  Proactively shore up your bodily defenses by getting a flu vaccination and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.  React smartly when the flu enemy appears around you:  take measures that you know will reduce your exposure to flu, including avoiding close contact with the sick and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces.  And, finally, be kind:  If you do get the flu, take steps to avoid passing it to others.

Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

1 Regular strength bleach is 5.25% chlorine bleach.

2 High strength bleach is 8.25% chlorine bleach.

A Mid-flu Season Update

Friday, February 14th, 2014

Flu Snapshot: As of February, 2014, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports seasonal flu activity is elevated nationally, but rates vary from place to place, rising in some areas, declining in others. Flu activity, which usually peaks in January or February, is expected to continue for several more weeks.

Has Flu Spread to Your Area? The color-coded map below from the CDC website estimates the geographic distribution of flu activity in the United States. The map does not indicate the severity of flu.

How Severe is the Flu this Year? As one indicator of flu severity, for the week ending February 1, CDC reported the national proportion of people seeing their health care provider for flu-like illness decreased slightly, but remains above the national baseline. More detail is available on the CDC Seasonal Influenza website.

How Important is the Flu Vaccine? Getting a flu vaccine is the most important thing you can do to prevent getting the flu. It is not too late to get a flu vaccine, especially if you live in an area with increased flu activity. CDC estimates 70,000 flu hospitalizations were prevented by vaccinations in the 2012-2013 flu season. That’s enough people to fill an NFL stadium! Not sure where to get a flu shot? This HealthMap Vaccine Finder could help.

How Effective is this Year’s Flu Vaccine? Each year, the effectiveness of the vaccine depends on how well matched it is to circulating flu viruses. According to the CDC website, this year’s flu vaccine is made from three viruses that health experts predicted will be prevalent: Influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses, and influenza B viruses. So far this year, data reported to CDC show more than half of patients who tested positive for influenza for the period January 12 through February 1, 2014 tested positive for the same variety of the H1N1 virus added to the vaccine.

A Weekly Influenza Surveillance Report Prepared by the Influenza Division
From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

Want to Learn More about the Flu? Check out our “Handy Tips to Help Prevent the Flu” below and take the CDC interactive “Flu I.Q.” quiz to raise your “Flu I.Q.”

Handy Tips to Help Prevent the Flu:

Avoid crowds if flu is prevalent in your area.

Best to get vaccinated early!

Cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing.

Disinfect frequently touched surfaces to prevent the spread of germs.*

Encourage others to stay home if they have the flu, and you do the same.

Frequently wash hands for 15-20 seconds at a time to help prevent the spread of germs.

*Mix up an inexpensive germ-busting solution by adding ¼ cup chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water. Apply the solution to frequently touched surfaces, leaving wet for 10 minutes. Rinse with plain water.

Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

How to Tell the Difference between the Flu and the Common Cold

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

 Woman with the common coldThe winter holidays are for gathering with family and friends, but sometimes we exchange more than gifts and small talk during the festivities. Cold and flu viruses are usually present in impressive numbers at holiday functions, turning every guest into a potential host–of a viral infection. Sick is sick, and it’s never fun to be sick, but how can you tell the difference between the flu and the common cold when some of the symptoms are similar? We offer the interactive chart below to help you do just that.

Happy, Healthy Holidays!


Click here to download this chart

When Flu Comes a-Knockin’ at Your Door: Ten Steps to Prevent Flu Spreading through Your Household

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Ten Steps to Prevent Flu Spreading through Your HouseholdFlu season is here again, and although “influenza activity”–to use the language of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—is low right now, it is expected to increase in the coming weeks. So, what steps should you take when flu comes a-knockin’ at your door? How can you reduce the risk of infection to the rest of your family when one family member gets the flu?

  1. BE PROACTIVE: GET THE ANNUAL FLU VACCINE: CDC says getting the flu vaccine is the single most important thing that everyone six months old and older can do to reduce their risk of flu. According to CDC, flu is more dangerous for children than the common cold; it can lead to severe complications, especially in children under the age of two, and in children with chronic health problems. Other people at high risk for flu-related complications are adults 65 years old and older and pregnant women. It takes about two weeks following vaccination for protective antibodies to develop in the body, so get your family vaccinated as soon as possible each year.
  2. AVOID OTHER SICK PEOPLE: As much as possible try to avoid other sick people during flu season.
  3. GIVE THE PATIENT SOME “SPACE.” The flu virus is a “cootie” that is never satisfied to infect just one family member. Through sneezing and coughing the flu virus is launched into the air with high hopes of reaching multiple hosts. One way to counteract that sneaky strategy is to keep your sick family member separated, as much as reasonably possible—ideally with a separate bedroom and bathroom—from everyone else.
  4. OFFER FLUIDS: Offer plenty of fluids to the sick household member. Fever with the flu can lead to dehydration, which makes the patient even sicker.
  5. PRACTICE “FLU HYGIENE.” Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue that is disposed of after use. Everyone in the household should wash their hands frequently and properly (by singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice–no matter how unhappy you feel–while lathering up with warm, soapy water). Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth—that just makes it too easy for the flu virus to spread!
  6. HUMIDIFY YOUR HOUSEHOLD AIR. Flu viruses survive best in dry air. According to a 2009 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, humidifying your home to 40-60 percent relative humidity helps reduce flu virus in the air and on frequently touched surfaces such as sink faucets, door handles and countertops.
  7. USE YOUR WASHING MACHINES. The flu virus can survive on hard surfaces for several hours and on fabric surfaces for even longer, so use your washing machines to your best advantage: Wash and dry dishes, glasses and utensils in the dishwasher to help disinfect them. Wash linens and clothing with detergent and hot water (follow manufacturers’ directions; use bleach if fabric directions permit) and tumble dry on a hot setting.
  8. DISINFECT FREQUENTLY TOUCHED SURFACES: Professor Douglas Powell of Kansas State University was recently quoted in a CNN article titled Getting Dangerous Germs out of Your Home as saying, “Chlorine bleach is your friend.” Mix up a simple flu germ-busting solution of chlorine bleach by adding ¼ cup of regular household bleach to one gallon of water.1 Wash frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, handrails and faucets, and then disinfect them by applying the bleach solution. Leave surface wet for 10 minutes, then rinse with plain water.
  9. MEDICATED APPROPRIATELY: Avoid given aspirin to young children under the age of 5. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the aches and pains of the flu.
  10. KNOW WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION: Most cases resolve by themselves. Seek medical attention if you are concerned about the patient. If the patient starts have breathing difficulty, develops bluish skin, becomes dehydrated, or does not wake up, is irritable or does not interact with other household members, medical attention should be sought immediately.

For more information on preventing the spread of flu, please see

Ralph Morris, MD, MPH, is a Physician and Preventive Medicine and Public Health official living in Bemidji, MN.

1If using concentrated bleach, reduce the amount of bleach to 2 ½ tablespoons.

Flu Vaccination Blitz Needed for Long-term Healthcare Workers

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Patient being given a flu vaccination.The flu vaccine represents the single best strategy for preventing the flu, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Many healthcare workers are vaccinated every year to help reduce their risk of contracting the flu and spreading it to their patients and families.  Long-term care patients in particular may be prone to serious complications from the flu, so it is important for them and their caregivers to be vaccinated.  There is unsettling news from CDC, however, that staff in long-term care facilities lag behind their colleagues in other healthcare environments in getting their flu vaccinations. This leaves the already high-risk population in long-term care facilities potentially more susceptible to seasonal flu.

The new CDC study finds flu vaccination rates among long-term care physicians and nurses and other healthcare personnel in the 2011-2012 flu season was only 50.2 percent compared to the overall rate among healthcare workers of 66.9 percent. Among healthcare workers, the highest vaccination rates were reported among hospital doctors (86.7 percent) and nurses (78.1 percent). But whereas flu vaccination rates rose among most monitored healthcare worker groups between the last two flu seasons, rates fell among long-term care facility workers. CDC reports that when healthcare workers were asked why they did not obtain a flu shot, the most common responses were:

About the Flu Vaccine, aka the “Flu Shot”

The flu vaccine, popularly called the “flu shot,” consists of a biological agent that stimulates the human body’s immune system to recognize and destroy influenza viruses. Vaccines may be administered through an injection or using a nasal spray.

Each spring a group of scientists meet to take their best guess at which flu strains are likely to be circulating in the upcoming winter. They choose three and the vaccine is developed to destroy those viruses. Sometimes the scientists guess correctly and sometimes they do not. Because circulating flu strains vary over time, people need to be vaccinated each year to maximize their level of protection from flu.

  • A belief that they did not need it (28.1 percent)
  • Concern about vaccination effectiveness (26.4 percent)
  • Concern about side effects (25.1 percent)

Needed: An Intervention Strategy

To help improve flu vaccination coverage, CDC recommends medical care facilities develop a comprehensive intervention strategy. Educational outreach, an important part of that strategy, should emphasize the effectiveness and safety of flu vaccines as well as how the flu is transmitted and the benefits of the vaccine to staff, patients and family.

Last month the Duke University Health Systems held a 24-hour flu vaccination “blitz” (news report). Duke and ten other health centers in the Triangle area of North Carolina set up free flu vaccination stations for staff in well-traveled areas such as the front entrances of hospitals, entrances to cafeterias, and near elevators and conference rooms; staffers vaccinated each other on wards. The goal of the blitz was to vaccinate 10,000 healthcare workers to both reduce flu incidence and conduct a drill for a potential pandemic flu situation.

The Duke blitz can serve as a model for long-term care facilities. It could go a long way toward raising flu vaccination rates among caregivers in constant contact with our elderly and infirm.

Barbara M. Soule, R.N. MPA, CIC, FSHEA is an Infection Preventionist and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council.

Norovirus: The “Stomach Flu” That is Not a Flu

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping.Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping.

(Image from CDC website)

The dreaded “stomach flu” that hits particularly hard in winter is not a flu at all. It is norovirus, a highly contagious virus that causes symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramping. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the illness often begins suddenly and lasts for one to two days with no long-term adverse health effects. True “flu” is a respiratory disease caused by the influenza viruses; sometimes the “true flu” can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms similar to norovirus. Getting an annual flu vaccine can help prevent flu; unfortunately, there is no vaccine for the norovirus and antibiotics, useful only for bacterial infections, do not help.

Norovirus is extremely common and has gained notoriety as a vacation cruise spoiler and an unwelcome visitor in child and adult care facilities, schools, restaurants, hospitals and dormitories. Norovirus particles are extremely small and are discharged by the billions in the stool or vomit of infected people, according to CDC. Yet, fewer than 100 virus particles are highly likely to make a person sick. The virus spreads through direct contact with an infected person or when an individual touches a contaminated surface and then touches their mouth or even their nose.

A 2011 study found norovirus is the leading cause of foodborne illness in the US, responsible for 5.5 million cases each year. In many cases, sick food handlers are responsible for these outbreaks. Eating foods contaminated with norovirus is a leading cause of hospitalizations.

Recipe for an Outbreak

Close quarters and a breakdown in sanitation is the simple recipe for a norovirus outbreak. Attention to surface disinfection is critical to controlling the spread of norovirus. Proper hand washing is another “must” as the virus can be transmitted easily via contaminated hands. It is important to know that a norovirus carrier can infect others for at least three days after recovery.

These steps, from CDC, can help reduce your risk of contracting norovirus:

  • Wash your hands carefully with soap and water, especially after using the toilet and changing diapers and always before eating or preparing food.
  • Carefully wash fruits and vegetables, and cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.
  • If infected with norovirus, do not prepare food for others while experiencing symptoms and for three days after recovery (see Norovirus: Food Handlers).
  • After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces by using a solution made with chlorine bleach and water:

Disinfecting against Norovirus with Chlorine Bleach

Disinfection Scenario Regular Household Bleach Dilution Cleanup and Disinfection Directions
1Hard surfaces such as non-porous floors, counter-tops, sinks, toilets 5 tablespoons of bleach in 1 gallon of water
(1000 ppm)

CLEAN-UP: Wearing gloves and other protective clothing, wipe up any vomitus or stool with paper towels and dispose in a plastic trash bag. Rinse hard surfaces with water; use kitty litter or other absorbent substance on carpeted areas to absorb liquid.
DISINFECTION: Apply bleach solution to affected area and allow to remain wet for 10 minutes. Allow to air dry. Rinse with clean water if food preparation area. Remove gloves and discard in plastic bag. Wash hands with soap and water or use an alcohol hand gel immediately after removing gloves.

2Porous surfaces, including wooden floors 1 2/3 cup bleach in 1 gallon of water (5000 ppm)
2Routine disinfection of stainless steel food/mouth contact items; toys 1 tablespoon bleach in 1 gallon water (200 ppm) Clean object first and then apply disinfectant solution. Allow to air dry.
  • Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. Handle soiled items carefully—without agitating them—to avoid spreading the virus. If available, wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled clothing or linens and wash hands after handling. Soiled items should be washed with detergent at the maximum available cycle length and then machine dried.

Joan Rose, PhD, is the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at Michigan State University and a member of the Water Quality and Health Council.


Rapid Influenza Tests Often Fail to Detect H1N1

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

Doctors’ offices and hospitals are using “rapid influenza diagnostic tests” to identify the presence of the H1N1 flu in patients; however, these tests actually do a poor job of sniffing out H1N1 because the rapid test does not detect H1N1, only influenza A. A confirmatory test must be done to identify H1N1 – a strain of influenza A.

Scientists confirmed this theory recently in a report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that one-third of California patients hospitalized with H1N1 flu were given a rapid test that came back negative. A different test that uses more sophisticated technology confirmed they had H1N1.

The discrepancy is caused by the high specificity (80-90 percent) and the low sensitivity (10-70 percent) of the rapid test for influenza A. The test often does not identify influenza A, especially in adults, who don’t shed as much virus as children. Therefore, correctly identifying those with influenza A, which could be either H1N1 or seasonal flu, is the real issue with the rapid tests. Since about 90 percent of circulating influenza A is H1N1, doctors can be fairly sure that anyone with flu-like symptoms who is also positive for influenza A – either on the rapid or more advanced tests – has H1N1 flu. But, there is still a 10 percent chance that it is seasonal flu.

Regardless, many are not taking the chance that their illness could be something other H1N1. Dartmouth pediatrician Hank Bernstein, who’s on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ infectious diseases committee, said in a recent USA Today article, if symptoms look like the flu, “it’s H1N1 until proven otherwise, almost.”

Stephen Baum, an infectious-disease physician at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in the same USA Today story, says: “If you test positive, you got it. If it’s negative, you may still got it.”

Therefore, it is important to understand the symptoms of flu versus a common cold. Those symptoms, not the test results, should be the trigger to take relevant action – either treatment or protecting others from exposure. Further, a negative test shouldn’t make one complacent in taking steps to prevent spreading the flu. Learn what you can do to keep your family healthy this winter by visiting the “Prevention and Treatment” section on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention H1N1 website.

(Jerod M. Loeb, PhD, is Executive Vice President, Division of Quality Measurement and Research, The Joint Commission, and a member of the Water Quality & Health Council).

Is it the flu or the common cold?

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Viruses are unwelcomed visitors in many households right now. I am frequently asked how to tell whether a family member is suffering from the flu or just a common cold. Some of the symptoms are similar, but others generally indicate one or the other of these illnesses. To help you evaluate your symptoms, I’ve created this comparison chart.