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Updated 5:30 PM January 20, 2005
 

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'Cover your Cough' this flu season



Although the crisis over the shortage of flu vaccine is essentially over, healthcare professionals at the University Health Service (UHS) say people still should use caution to prevent the spread of illness. Last week the first cases of Influenza A and Influenza B were confirmed on campus by viral cultures sent to the State of Michigan Health Department.

Through a campus-wide 'Cover Your Cough' campaign, UHS Director Dr. Robert Winfield says students, faculty and staff are encouraged to "stop the spread of germs that make you and others sick." Winfield says that for the second year, the health service has targeted this message to students, in particular, with communication in residence halls, on buses and on the UHS Web site.

"Influenza viruses are primarily spread from person to person by inhaling droplets from the cough of ill people. This spread can be limited by staying at least 3 feet away from the coughing person, and by encouraging the person to cover his or her mouth and nose when coughing, thereby limiting droplet spread," Winfield says.

He also noted that the pattern of spread is different with common cold viruses, which most often are picked up from germs on keyboards, door handles, etc., and then carried to the mouth and nose. This can be minimized by frequent hand washing, he says.

Other prevention tips offered on the UHS Web site, include:

• Throw used tissues in the wastebasket

• Sneeze or cough into your sleeve if a tissue is not handy

• Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner and wash regularly, particularly after coughing into the hand or using a tissue

• Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth

• Do not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels or other personal items

• Stay home when sick

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

Winfield says people also should be aware of the symptoms of influenza, because this disease is treatable with anti-viral drugs. Symptoms of the flu, which is a December to March illness, usually come on quickly and can include a high fever greater than 100°F, severe body aches, headache, dry cough, extreme fatigue and chills. Treatment needs to be started within 48 hours of onset in order to be effective. Flu symptoms typically are severe and may last up to three weeks.

Cold symptoms normally are not as severe and are less sudden in onset than influenza. They may include a runny nose, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, head and body aches, low fever (less than 101°F), and congestion of the ears, nose, throat and head. Colds typically are shorter in duration than influenza and are more of an inconvenience than they are a serious illness.

While antiviral drugs are useful in the first 48 hours of influenza, general advice for both illnesses essentially is the same: get plenty of rest, including listening to your body to determine whether or not to exercise; drink plenty of caffeine-free fluids, particularly water and juice; and use over-the-counter medications to reduce fever and ease symptoms, but be careful about combining too many of these medications or taking too much for too long.

Do not use aspirin for the management of fever in influenza as it has been associated with some complications.

Information on symptoms, treatment—including when to self-treat and when to see a healthcare professional—and other tips are available on the UHS Web site, http://www.uhs.umich.edu/index.html.

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