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Swine Flu and the Elderly

Experts share insights on ways seniors can protect themselves against swine flu.
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What steps can seniors take to protect themselves against swine flu? continued...

"I'm telling my patients that if someone in the immediate family or close contact has any flu-like symptoms ... they need to stay away from those people; those people also need to isolate themselves and seek care," says Leng. Once you have symptoms of the flu, you should contact your doctor, says Leng.

"Whenever possible, seniors should avoid anyone who might appear to have flu symptoms," advises Yoshikawa. "Washing your hands with disposable paper towels rather than shared cloth towels minimizes spread of the flu onto your hands and face."

Carrying alcohol-based hand gels and cleaning your hands whenever you go to public places may also help remove or kill the flu virus, Yoshikawa tells WebMD.

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.

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