Flu Season Preparation, Prevention

Middle East District
Published Nov. 30, 2009

MIDDLE EAST DISTRICT, Winchester, Va. -- The temperature outside is dropping, children are several months into the new school year, and another flu season is upon us.

There is no reason to fear the flu though, according to many experts. With proper preparation and prevention Middle East District personnel and their families may be able to avoid the unpleasant effects of the flu completely. Or, if symptoms do appear, they will know how to best respond.

One of the most reliable sources for information is the federal government’s flu-related Web site: http://www.flu.gov. Public Service Announcements on the site even feature Sesame Street characters and are designed to educate children and help them remain “happy and healthy.”

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Web site also has educational materials available for adults and children, and specific information to help businesses and schools prepare.

A specialized team here, led by Lt. Col. Robert S. Cabell, Plans and Operations Office, began preparing for flu season early last month. A flu outbreak can significantly impact the workforce, so the number one goal within MED is prevention. “We are always concerned about our most precious resource: the workforce of MED,” said Lt. Col. Don Johantges, the District’s deputy commander. “The flu season is a particularly troublesome time as many people contract the flu or have family members requiring extra care.”

What can I do to avoid getting sick?

While there is no precautionary action that can guarantee MED employees, or their family members, won’t end up ill during this flu season, there are some simple and proven preventative measures that can increase an individual’s chances of remaining in good health. Vaccination is the best protection against contracting the flu, according to the CDC. You need two vaccines to be fully protected this year. The seasonal flu vaccine is different from the H1N1 (Swine) flu vaccine. The CDC is encouraging people to get both vaccinations as soon as possible.

Everyday methods to help avoid contracting the virus include covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when coughing or sneezing; washing your hands often with soap and water, or using alcohol-based hand cleaners; not touching your eyes, nose or mouth; and avoiding close contact with sick people.

What should I do if I experience flu-like symptoms?

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Not everyone with the flu will have all of these symptoms, and some may not even have a fever. If you experience flu-like symptoms, stay home and avoid contact with other people except to seek medical care. However, emergency room visits should be reserved for people who are very sick. Most people with either the seasonal flu or H1N1 have experienced only mild illness and have not needed medical care or antiviral drugs, according to the CDC. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with serious and chronic medical conditions are more likely to have complications with flu and should talk to a health care provider about how to deal with flu symptoms.

Of course, it is possible for healthy people to develop severe illness from the flu, and anyone concerned about their illness should consult a health care provider. Anyone experiencing emergency warning signs should get medical care right away, according to the CDC. For children, these signs include fast or troublesome 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, fever with a rash, and when flu-like symptoms improve but then return with a fever and worse coughing. Warning signs for adults include difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, and persistent vomiting.

Before returning to work or attending social events, wait at least 24 hours after your fever, or signs of a fever, have subsided without the use of fever-reducing medicines.

For more information about how flu effects high-risk individuals or caring for a person in your home who is sick, visit the CDC’s Web site.

What is MED doing in preparation for flu season?

“Besides basic education regarding season flu and the potential H1N1 effects, MED is taking several proactive steps,” said Cabell. “Plans and Operations is working jointly with each of the divisions and offices here to track the number of personnel out sick with the flu, and of that group how many have confirmed cases of H1N1. That information will be used to make decisions about how to handle the workforce. If the need arises, MED is putting measures in place to disperse the workforce as much as possible by implementing the use of Telework.”

“We are consistently sending reminders to employees about things they can do to protect themselves from contracting or spreading the flu both here and at home,” added Johantges. “And we are ensuring that we have the right tools available in the event we have a large portion of people working from home due to their being sick or members of their families being sick.” Locally, employees are encouraged to apply good hygiene and follow the advice of health care professionals to prevent or limit the spread of a virus. Information and updates about the flu will be disseminated through MED Announcements, the daily News and Information emails, and supervisors.