Jan 3, 2014 — The official beginning of the flu season is January 1, and this year the H1N1 virus is shaping up to be the dominant strain that’s going around. Is it a big deal? Dr. Tom Miller explains how swine flu behaves a little differently than other flu strains, what you can do to help prevent catching it and why you should contact your physician or go to urgent care immediately if have flu symptoms.

Interview

Scot: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists that you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to the Scope.
We talking with Dr. Tom Miller at University of Utah Hospital. So every year around this time that's when physicians start seeing what flu's going to be the predominant strain.

Dr. Tom Miller: You might, you might not. but what's happening this year the C.D.C. put out a health advisory that came out right before Christmas and they said, "Early reports are the strain of H1N1 . . . remember that strain came out back in 2009. We had a lot of cases of influenza back in 2009. Well, apparently it looks like H1N1 might be back nationally.

Scot: So it's taken a little hiatus, so to speak. So 2009 it was kind of a big deal and it kind of disappeared.

Dr. Tom Miller: Yeah, the good news though is they have the H1N1 strain in the vaccine.

Scot: Okay.

Dr. Tom Miller: So the flu shot this year, you should be covered for that.

Scot: So mentioned something about the H1N1 that I found interesting. Unlike other varieties of flu, it behaves a little differently in terms of who it affects.

Dr. Tom Miller: Well, back in 2009 we were all interested because it basically struck people between the ages of, let's say, 10 years old and 65. So there were people being very ill. Usually the flu in any year kind of gets people on the ends, those less than five and those older than 65. But this particular strain, the H1N1, seems to really be a problem for some people in the middle.

Scot: Okay.

Dr. Tom Miller. Yeah.

Scot: It can cause serious health problems to those people . . .

Dr. Tom Miller: Oh yeah.

Scot: . . . not traditionally used to having a problem.

Dr. Tom Miller: That's right. So you can get pneumonia. You can, if you're a kid, get ear infections, and it's severe you can end up in the hospital and in an intensive care unit. And in some cases people die.

Scot: All right. Let's go back to some of the basics, like you said. Luckily you got our flu shot. H1N2 is in your shot, so you're good.

Dr. Tom Miller: Right. Now, the flu shot is never 100% effective, but it's pretty good insurance. It's about 50 to 70% effective in most cases.

Scot: Okay.

Dr. Tom Miller: It's still pretty good insurance.

Scot: Okay. How do you know if you have a flu versus just a cold? Let's talk about some of the basics here first. So the main thing is the sudden onset of fever, chills, muscle aches, and cough. And it that comes on in several hours, you probably have the flu. And if you do have the flu, it's best to try to get, even if you've had the flu shot, if you have those symptoms, you should seek medical attention because anti-virals especially if it's H!N1, they're effective and they can shorten the duration of the illness. They can prevent complications, and if by chance you are hospitalized they can reduce the length of time you're in the hospital.

Scot: From what I understand, if you catch the symptoms soon enough, you go to your physician. Within three days you can get that anti-viral. Beyond that you're kind of out of luck?

Dr. Tom Miller: Actually the best time is up to 48 hours.

Scot: Okay.

Dr. Tom Miller: As soon as you have those symptoms, if you have a physician or healthcare provider, you should contact them and see if you can get the influenza anti-viral treatment. If not, you might need to go see a physician because it is a prescription medication. It comes in two forms. There's one type that you take by pill, and there's another type that you can inhale.

Scot: Okay. Now, let's talk about the symptoms. I thought I had the flu. I went into a physician. I had the cough, the body aches, the chills. I mean, it was just miserable. Didn't have the fever though.

Dr. Tom Miller: In some cases one will have a significant fever that would be greater than 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scot: Okay.

Dr. Tom Miller: And so, again, that's kind of a hallmark is that you're going to have a real fever . . .

Scot: All right.

Dr. Tom Miller: . . . that can be checked with a thermometer.

Scot: If you have the flu, should you show up for work?

Dr. Tom Miller: No, Scot. You shouldn't. Basically if you know you have the flu, it's highly contagious, and you don't want to spread it around. The party line is, "Don't go back to work until your fever has abated by 24 hours."

Scot: Okay, so 24 hours after your fever's gone down, you're not as contagious anymore. Oh, I think that's interesting.

Dr. Tom Miller: I think the bottom line, Scot, is basically if you haven't been vaccinated get vaccinated. It does afford you protection, especially against H1N1. And we will see if that becomes the predominant strain nationally and in Utah. And even if you've had the flu shot, you develop flu-like symptoms, seek treatment.

Scot: We're your daily dose of science, conversation, medicine. This is the Scope, the University of Utah Health Sciences Radio.


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