The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the number of people seeing their doctor for influenza-like illness is the highest since the pandemic in 2009. The American Red Cross has steps people can follow to help prevent the spread of the flu.
The CDC continues to recommend influenza vaccination for all persons 6 months of age and older as flu viruses are likely to continue circulating for several more weeks.
According to the latest CDC flu report, thousands of cases of hospitalizations due to the flu have been confirmed. People 65 years of age or older make up the largest group of hospitalizations, followed by adults 50 to 64 years of age and children age 4 and younger. The number of deaths attributed to influenza is growing, including 37 pediatric deaths since the onset of this flu season.
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. More information, including flu safety checklists in several languages, is available at the flu safety link above. To help stop the spread of influenza:
- Stay home if you’re sick.
- Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol based hand-sanitizer.
- 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.
- 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 if traveling – they can act as a shield against the seat itself.
THE FLU AND GIVING BLOOD The Red Cross currently has an urgent need for blood and platelet donors of all blood types to give now to help address a winter blood donation shortage. Donors who are healthy and feeling well are urged to schedule donation appointments and invite others to do the same as soon as possible.
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.
DOWNLOAD FIRST AID APP The Red Cross First Aid app includes safety tips on influenza. Download the free app from the app store for your mobile device by searching for “American Red Cross” or by going to redcross.org/apps.
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.