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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Swine Flu and Chronic Conditions

Experts explain the risks of swine flu for people with chronic health conditions.

What about people with chronic conditions that may be institutionalized or attending school?

The same precautions should be taken for those in institutionalized settings like nursing homes and schools.

It's also important to separate sick people from healthy people, and avoid shared resources like towels and cups. With regard to "practicing good infection control -- one cannot talk often enough about washing your hands," says Glatt. "If you're caring for someone in an institutional setting and you leave the room, wash your hands -- that's what you should always be doing anyway, but people just sometimes need to be reminded."

What type of treatment should high-risk groups with swine flu follow? Can they take antivirals?

Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that can make the flu milder in those that are sick, and they may also prevent serious flu complications.

Right now the antivirals recommended as effective against novel H1N1 flu are oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). These are "useful for people who have symptoms of the swine flu or any flu", says Stubbs.

Tamiflu and Relenza are most effective if given within 48 hours of the first symptoms. But the drugs still benefit patients if given more than 48 hours after symptom onset.

Glatt adds that no over-the-counter flu medications are proven to work against swine flu virus or any other flu virus. However, medications to help with the flu symptoms are available. To stay well "you really need to do all the things your mother told you to do: Eat well, sleep well, exercise, stay as healthy as possible."

What preventative measures should caregivers of people with chronic conditions take to protect them from swine flu?

"This is a very good question, and it's very important that people take proper precautions," says Glatt, who recommends that caregivers avoid taking care of people if they are sick themselves. If that's impossible -- for instance, a person taking care of a sick spouse -- Glatt suggests these steps:

  • Wear an appropriate face mask.
  • Wash your hands very, very frequently (after each contact/care episode) and avoid touching your face.
  • Be appropriately careful with secretions and body fluids.

Other preventative measures recommended for caregivers include:

  • Separate the sick person from common areas if possible.
  • Consult with a physician regarding the benefits and risks of taking antiviral medication for prevention.

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