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Swine Flu and the Elderly

Experts share insights on ways seniors can protect themselves against swine flu.

What type of treatment should a senior with swine flu follow? Can they take antivirals?

"If a senior comes down with symptoms compatible with a flu, they should see their doctor right away," Yoshikawa says. "Taking antivirals early in the course of the flu (preferably before all symptoms start but by 48 hours into the course of the infection) can reduce the severity of the disease." Antivirals can also help prevent flu and its complications.

The antivirals recommended as effective against H1N1 flu are oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). 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 onset of symptoms.

What precautions should caregivers of the elderly or those in retirement homes take to protect themselves from swine flu?

There are always universal precautions to help prevent the flu, says Leng. 

Additionally, in a retirement community setting, "if someone gets flu-like symptoms, I would suggest they stay in their own apartment, and if diagnosed they really need to be isolated." Yet sometimes a senior may not realize they have flu-like symptoms. In that case the caretaker may want to take the extra step and get that person to seek care if they have symptoms, suggests Leng.

And as a caregiver you need to protect your patients by staying home if you become ill and avoiding especially those at high risk for complications from influenza.

If I follow the standard flu precautions will they help me avoid swine flu?

Yes they should, say the experts. The CDC recommends:

  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then throw the tissue away.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home if you get sick and limit your contact with others.
  • Get the H1N1 swine flu vaccine.


What are the warning signs that I may need emergency medical care for swine flu?

If you do get infected by the H1N1 virus, you may be sick for a week or longer, reports the CDC. They suggest staying home from work for at least seven days after symptoms begin, or until you've been symptom-free for 24 hours. If you experience any of these signs while having the flu, the CDC suggests seeking urgent medical care:

  • Problems breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough


Reviewed on July 14, 2010

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