Campus Life

If you feel the flu, take proper steps

With all this talk about H1N1 virus, did you ever wonder what it would be like to actually be ill with the virus and what would happen if you did get ill?

If you have recently been to Mexico or have been around someone who has, the virus comes into your body without you being aware prompting the
immune system to begins to try and recognize the virus. Without antibody recognition, your body eventually loses the battle to eliminate the virus and three or so days after contact, your body begins to let you know that it has had a viral attack.

Typically, influenza causes the body/muscles to ache and you feel weak and tired. You may experience headaches, followed by fever, coughing, sneezing and a runny nose. Some people experience nausea and diarrhea as the viral can also replicate in the bowel. Influenza symptoms can lead to 3 to 10 days of feeling ill or, especially if you have other health problems or the influenza type is very virulent, you can have more troubles with coughing and breathing problems.

Because of the extensive media coverage of Influenza A H1N1, people may suspect they have this particular virus and would call Health Link at their toll-Free number, 1-866-408-5465. They may ask you to call a physician clinic or go to Emergency, depending on your symptoms.

If you call the University of Lethbridge Health Centre at 403-329-2484, you will be greeted by one of the Health Centre staff. You would explain that Health Link has asked you to call and they would let you know your appointment time and ask you not to enter the Health Centre Clinic directly.

When you show up, if you do not have a N-95 mask, one will be provided to you. You will be asked to wait in a separate room from the usual reception area. A doctor will come into the separate room dressed in a yellow gown with gloves, mask and goggles. An assessment will then be done, including temperature, discussion of symptoms, physical examination and a nasopharyngeal swab (nasal swab to find out if this virus is H1N1). I'll be honest, the swab goes up the nose and it can hurt.

Depending on the results of the assessment, the doctor may send you home or they may send you to hospital if your symptoms are severe. Anti-viral medications may be ordered but not antibiotics (as those medications do not work on viruses). You will be asked to stay at home for seven days following the onset of the illness. If you are ill longer than seven days after illness onset, they will ask you to stay at home until you are well, as you may be contagious longer than someone who is getting well quicker.

If you are ill at home, you should be in a separate, well-ventilated room. Cover your coughs and clean your hands often. A good household disinfectant should be used to clean surfaces and everyone in the home should be cleaning their hands regularly. As well, all items that are in common should be thoroughly cleaned with warm soapy water (dishes, bed linens, bathrooms, clothing etc).

Your caregivers should wear a mask outside of the home to keep from spreading the illness in case they are in the early stages of infection. You would, of course, wear a mask when outside your room and around your family. Masks can be bought at pharmacies, hardware stores etc.

Patients should also avoid being around pregnant women as they are at increased risk of influenza-related complications and may have less immunity while pregnant.

Generally, after seven days from the onset of illness, if you begin to feel better, you can make judgments about when to return to your daily activities.

It might be time to investigate/decide whether or not you and your family will get a flu shot this upcoming October/November!

Lori Weber - RN/Manager - University of Lethbridge Health Centre