Swine Flu and Chronic Conditions

If you have a chronic condition like heart disease, diabetes, or obesity, you need to take extra care to protect yourself from all types of the flu, but especially the strain pH1N1. Most people call it swine flu.

When you have a chronic health condition and get any kind of flu, you’ll probably get sicker than someone who doesn’t have the problem.

You’re more likely to get complications from the flu -- like bronchitis or pneumonia -- that can land you in the hospital.

Not only that, but having the flu can make other health problems worse. If you have asthma, for instance, your attacks may be more severe when you have the flu.

You are at high risk for severe swine flu if you have:

Get the Vaccine

If you've had a flu shot this year, you have the best protection from swine flu. And make sure to get the shot. The nasal spray vaccine doesn’t work as well for people with chronic conditions. Ask your doctor if you should also get a pneumonia vaccine, too.

Insist Your Close Family Members Get the Vaccine

Your family and caregivers -- anyone who is around you on most days -- can help prevent you from getting the flu by getting the vaccine themselves.

Protect Yourself Each Day

Use the same steps to prevent all types of flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. That includes before, during, and after preparing food; before eating; before and after touching someone who’s sick; before and after treating a wound; after using the bathroom, changing diapers, or helping a child in the bathroom; and especially after you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze. Use hand sanitizer when you can't wash your hands.
  • Don't touch your face unless you’ve washed your hands. Touching your mouth, nose, or eyes can spread the virus to your lungs and throat.
  • Avoid crowded places and people who are sneezing or coughing whenever possible.

Stay as healthy as you can: Eat healthy foods, drink a lot of liquids, and get plenty of sleep and exercise.

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When to Get Medical Help

Call your doctor right away if you have these symptoms -- even if you’ve had the flu shot:

Remind the doctor’s office about your chronic condition. Your doctor can test to see if you have the flu.

Get Treatment Right Away

Flu medicines work best if you take them within 48 hours of your first symptoms. Plus, they can help keep you from getting more serious problems, like pneumonia.

If you have any type of flu, your doctor may treat it with one of these antiviral medicines:

Ask the doctor if it could affect other medications you take.

When to Get Emergency Help

Swine flu can make you sick very quickly. Your other medical conditions put you at risk. Go to the emergency room if you:

  • Have problems breathing
  • Feel pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen
  • Feel confused or dizzy all of a sudden
  • Can't stop vomiting
  • Have flu symptoms that get better but come back with a fever and worse cough

If Someone in Your House Has Swine Flu

If someone who lives with you comes down with swine flu, stay away from the person as much as possible.

  • Create a sick room. To avoid spreading germs, have the person stay somewhere away from common rooms. Also have him use a separate bathroom, if possible. If he needs to leave the sick room, have him wear a mask or cover his face when he coughs and sneezes.
  • Don't be the caregiver for the sick person. Choose one person in your household to take care of the person who’s ill. If you have a chronic health issue, that should not be you.

Ask your doctor if you should take antiviral drugs to prevent the flu.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 10, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Notice to Clinicians: Early Reports of pH1N1-Associated Illnesses for the 2013-14 Influenza Season," "Asthma, Diabetes, and Other Health Conditions Increase Risks From Flu," "The Flu: What to Do if You Get Sick," “Treating Influenza,” “Follow the Sick Room Rules.”

Flu.gov: "Children and Infants," "People with Health Conditions," "Caring for Someone with the Flu, "Heart Disease & the Flu," "Diabetes & the Flu."

Harvard Health Publications: "Swine Flu: A Possibly Serious Threat."

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