Editor’s note: Watch for more information on the Montana Asthma Project in an upcoming Health section in the Oct. 11 edition of the Havre Daily News.
With the influenza season getting in full swing, the head of a local program for children who suffer from asthma said being vaccinated is crucial for people with that or other respiratory ailments.
Registered Nurse Brandi Baker, who heads the Montana Asthma Project at Bullhook Community Health Center in Havre, said people with asthma — and any breathing problem — need to have flu shots and take special care in avoiding contracting the virus.
“Respiratory infections are the leading cause of severe asthma attacks. … There’s more (emergency room) visits for asthma attacks that are caused by respiratory infections than all other causes put together, ” Baker said. “Influenza being a pretty serious respiratory infection in and of itself, if you have asthma on top of that, that can lead to hospitalization or more serious outcomes. So flu shots are really, really important for kids with asthma. ”
Baker began working with children with asthma last spring, telling them about the disease, identifying their triggers that cause attacks, teaching them about how to avoid the triggers and reduce attacks, and working with them on their medication and treating the disease.
She said a large issue now is avoiding respiratory infections, including influenza, and the complications they lead to.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone older than 6 months receive an influenza vaccination, with some groups with a higher risk of complications — such as people with chronic respiratory problems — having a higher priority for the need for vaccinations.
Vaccinations are available at numerous locations in the area, including Bullhook Community Health Center, the Hill County Health Department, most clinics and doctors’ offices, and many local pharmacies.
The issue was under the spotlight in 2009, with the discovery of the new H1N1 influenza, commonly called Swine Flu. As it was a novel virus, a separate vaccination was necessary to protect from that strain, along with the standard vaccination for seasonal flu.
The H1N1 vaccine, along with vaccine for three other flu strains, is included in the vaccination this year. Only one vaccination is necessary.
Baker said using good hygiene also is crucial to avoid catching or spreading the virus, for people who suffer from asthma and for everyone else.
“It’s also important that they wash their hands at school, that they don’t let people sneeze on them, and so on, ” she said.
The virus is spread from people to people, often after someone sneezes or coughs into their hand and then touchessomething such as a doorknob. When someone else touches that item, the virus could be picked up by their hand, and if they touch their eyes, nose or mouth they could contract the illness.
Hand-washing is a key to protection. Regularly washing hands with warm water and soap — for 10 to 15 seconds each time — greatly reduces the chance of contracting the virus. Use of alcohol-based hand cleaners also helps prevent spread of the virus.
People can help prevent the spread of the influenza virus — or any disease — by using good hygiene when they are coughing or sneezing. Using a disposable tissue, then throwing it away, to cover a cough or sneeze helps reduce the chance of spreading illness. If a tissue is not available, a person coughing into their sleeve, such as at their elbow, also helps reduce the chance of spreading the flu or any illness.
The spread of the disease also is reduced if people avoid contact with people who are ill, or if they stay home and avoid contact with others if they contract the disease.
Groups with higher risk for influenza
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists high-risk groups that have an even higher need for influenza vaccinations due to the higher risk of complications if members contract influenza:
• Pregnant women;
• Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old;
• People 50 years of age and older;
• People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions;
• People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities;
• People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
— Health care workers;
— Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu;
— Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated).
Symptoms and treatments of influenza
The influenza season is rolling around again, with vaccinations available and clinics already held and being scheduled.
While the best way to deal with the flu is to get a yearly vaccination, officials say, people who catch the illness should take care of themselves to reduce its impact and get immediate help if emergency situations arise.
Prevent catching the flu or spreading it to others is by covering coughs and sneezes with a sleeve or disposable tissue, regularly washing hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer if that is not available, and regularly sanitizing items touched by people such as door knobs, telephones or computer keyboards.
The symptoms of the flu include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
People with other symptoms may have the virus even though they do not develop a fever, and should follow all recommended procedures. People should contact their health care provider if they are concerned that they have developed the flu.
Medicines to help control the flu are available through a prescription. People with symptoms of the flu are urged to stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids such as water and juice.
People showing emergency signs need to seek immediate medical attention.
Emergency signs in children include: fast breathing or trouble breathing; bluish skin color; not drinking enough fluids; not waking up or not interacting; being so irritable that the child does not want to be held; flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough; and fever with a rash.
Emergency signs in adults include: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen; sudden dizziness; confusion; and severe vomiting.
The CDC recommends that anyone with flu symptoms stay at home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone, without using a fever-reducing medicine, except to get medical care or other necessities.