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H1N1 Flu Questions & Answers



In This Section:

H1N1 Flu Questions & Answers
Information for Employees & Their Families
Guidance for Bureau and Office Emergency Planners
Information for Supervisors & Human Resource Offices
H1N1 Flu & Seasonal Flu Vaccines
H1N1 Flu Case Reporting
Guidance on Public Gatherings and Meetings
Information Technology Guidance Related to 2009 H1N1 Flu
Bureau of Indian Affairs and Tribal Information
Bureau of Indian Education Schools
Office of Insular Affairs and Insular Areas Information
Guidance for Wildland Fire Personnel
Law Enforcement
Guidance for Emergency Medical Services Personnel
Respirators, Masks & Other Occupational Health Issues
Additional Pandemic H1N1 Flu Websites & Points of Contact


Q1.

What is the current situation with the H1N1 Flu?

A.

Novel influenza A (H1N1) is a new flu virus that was first detected in April 2009. The virus has sparked a growing and expanding pandemic - with 214 countries worldwide reporting confirmed cases of H1N1 Flu, including over 18,300 deaths, to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Many factors changed since the H1N1 Flu first arrived. There is little 2009 H1N1 Flu virus currently circulating and causing illness in the United States. No states are reporting widespread or regional influenza activity, and most states are reporting no activity or sporadic activity. This is typical for the summer during non-pandemic years. Hospitalizations from influenza-like illnesses have also fallen to their usual low levels for this time of year. In response to the current situation of the H1N1 Flu activity in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did not renew the public health emergency declaration for the H1N1 Flu Pandemic, and it expired on June 23. In addition, on August 10, the WHO announced that the world is no longer in phase 6 of influenza pandemic alert, and we are now moving into the post-pandemic period.

It is important to note that the H1N1 Flu is still circulating. Based on experience with past pandemics, we expect the H1N1 virus to take on the behavior of a seasonal influenza virus and continue to circulate for some years to come. Pandemics, like the viruses that cause them, are unpredictable. So is the immediate post-pandemic period. There will be many questions, and we will have clear answers for only some. Therefore, continued vigilance is extremely important. Everyone should still take basic precautions to prevent themselves and their families from getting flu and other respiratory infections in the first place – for example, by washing your hands frequently, covering your cough with a sleeve or a tissue, and staying home if you are ill.

The best source of information and guidance on the H1N1 Flu, and the best way to keep up-to-date on current guidance, can be found on the DOI H1N1 Flu website.

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Q2.

How does the H1N1 Flu virus spread?

A.

The H1N1 Flu virus is spread the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are mainly spread from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses are also spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose before washing their hands.

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Q3.

What animals can be infected with the H1N1 Flu? Can I get H1N1 Flu from my pet?

A.

In addition to humans, live swine and turkeys, we know that ferrets (which are highly susceptible to influenza A viruses) and a domestic cat have been infected with the H1N1 Flu. All available information suggests that the ferrets and domestic cat with H1N1 infections acquired the virus through close contact with ill humans. Transmission of the H1N1 virus from humans to animals appears similar to human-to-human transmission, and no evidence is available to suggest that animals are infecting humans with the H1N1 Flu.

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Q4.

What are the signs and symptoms of this virus in people?

A.

The symptoms of the H1N1 Flu are similar to that of the seasonal flu, and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. A significant number of people who have been infected with this virus also have reported diarrhea and vomiting. Severe illnesses and death has occurred as a result of illness associated with this virus.

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Q5.

Who is at higher risk for complications from the flu?

A.

Some population groups are at higher risk for complications from the flu. These include children younger than 5 years of age, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and chronic health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, cancer or heart disease), and people 65 and older.

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Q6.

Why should we be concerned about the spread of flu in schools and the workplace?

A.

Students can get sick with flu and schools may act as a point of spread, where students can easily spread flu to other students and their families. The largest number of cases of H1N1 Flu has been in the age range of 5 – 24. The workplace also serves as a point of spread where coworkers infect each other with the flu, and then these employees bring the germs home to their families.

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Q7.

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick?

A.

There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza.

Take these everyday steps to protect your health:

  • Maintain good health habits.
    • Eat a well-balanced diet and drink 6 – 8 glasses of water daily.
    • Exercise regularly.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

Other important actions that you can take are:

  • Get vaccinated against the flu. Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.
  • Make sure your family members all practice the healthy habits and infection control measures described in the bullet above.
  • Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues and other related items might could be useful.
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Q8.

What actions can bureaus and offices take to keep employees from getting sick?

A.

  • Educate your employees about the flu, and steps they can take to help prevent themselves from getting ill and spreading the infection around the workplace.
    • The DOI H1N1 Flu website is the Department’s one-stop shop for information and materials that you can provide your employees.
  • Encourage respiratory/cough etiquette and proper handwashing.
  • Provide hand-sanitizer, tissues and disposable wipes around the facility/office.
  • Routinely clean surfaces and items (such as hand rails, elevator buttons, phones, computers, conference tables, chairs, and desks) that are more likely to have frequent hand contact. Additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is not recommended.
  • Provide disposable wipes so commonly used surfaces can be wiped prior to each use.
  • Post infection control awareness signs/notices/posters around your office/facility.
  • Encourage all employees to get vaccinated against the flu.
  • Separate employees who become sick at work from other staff and ask them to go home.
  • Advise all employees with flu-like symptoms to stay home if they are sick until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or signs of a fever.
  • Encourage sick employees at higher risk of complications from flu to contact their health care provider as soon as possible.
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Q9.

If I have a family member at home who is sick with the flu, should I go to work?

A.

Employees who are well but who have an ill family member at home with the flu can go to work as usual. These employees should monitor their health every day, and take everyday precautions including washing their hands often with soap and water, especially after they cough or sneeze. If they become ill, they should notify their supervisor and stay home.

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Q10.

What should I do if I get sick?

A.

If you become ill with influenza-like symptoms (including fever, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea), you should stay home and avoid contact with other people. CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Stay away from others as much as possible to keep from making others sick.

If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for complications from influenza, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed.

In addition, contact your supervisor and inform him/her that you think you have the flu.

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Q11.

How should supervisors handle employees who are exhibiting symptoms of flu-like illness at work?

A.

First, separate the employee from the rest of the staff, and encourage the employee to go home and consult with their primary care provider. In addition, refer to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) “What a Supervisor Should Do if an Employee Appears Ill During a Declared Pandemic Influenza or Has Been Exposed to Pandemic Influenza”.

If the employee cannot leave the workplace immediately, have the symptomatic individual wear a surgical mask (or a filtering facepiece respirator) to reduce the spread of infection.

If questions about types of leave that can be used in this situation, or other human resources questions arise, contact your human resources officer for advice.

Report the employee as a suspected case of H1N1 Flu in the DOI Safety Management Information System (SMIS).

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Q12.

How do supervisors report cases of H1N1 Flu in their employees?

A.

The Office of Occupational Health and Safety has created a H1N1 Flu reporting system on the Department’s Safety Management Information System (SMIS) to track and record DOI employees with suspected and confirmed cases of H1N1 Flu. This special SMIS H1N1 Flu reporting feature is embedded in the accident reporting portion of SMIS and is highlighted in red at the bottom of the screen.

Bureaus and offices are requested to implement this H1N1 Flu case reporting on SMIS though their supervisors and managers. In entering and updating case information, supervisors and managers are reporting the status of the H1N1 Flu case as being suspected, confirmed or not H1N1, as well as reporting when the employee returned to work.

This information provides a picture of the impact of H1N1 Flu on the Department as a whole, as well as by bureau/office and by geographic location. Having SMIS H1N1 Flu data will help us better target response measures and communications more effectively to those areas that are being the most impacted.

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Q13.

Do the benefits of getting the flu vaccine outweigh the risks? Is the flu vaccine safe?

A.

Flu vaccines are highly effective in preventing the flu, and the benefits of vaccination will far outweigh the risks. In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu should get vaccinated. People who are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or people who live with or care for those at high risk for serious flu-related complications are highly encouraged to get their flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated is the single best way to protect yourself against influenza illness.

Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have received seasonal flu vaccines. The most common side effects following flu vaccinations are mild, such as soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be closely monitoring for any signs that the vaccine is causing unexpected adverse events and we will work with State and local health officials to investigate any unusual events.

The CDC and the FDA encourage you to ask your healthcare provider any questions you may have about the influenza vaccines. Your healthcare provider is an excellent source for information on the benefits and risks of vaccination for protection against the flu for you, your children, and other family members.

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Q14.

In what forms are the flu vaccines available? Is there anyone that should not get one of these forms of vaccination?

A.

There are two kinds of flu vaccines produced:

  • The flu shot — an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm.
  • The nasal spray vaccine — a vaccine made with live, weakened viruses (sometimes called LAIV for "live attenuated influenza vaccine").

The following groups should not get the nasal spray vaccine:

  • People younger than 2 years of age
  • Pregnant women
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People with a medical condition that places them at higher risk for complications from influenza, including those with chronic heart or lung disease, such as asthma or reactive airways disease; people with medical conditions such as diabetes or kidney failure; or people with illnesses that weaken the immune system, or who take medications that can weaken the immune system
  • Children younger than 5 years old with a history of recurrent wheezing
  • Children or adolescents receiving aspirin therapy
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Q15.

Can the nasal spray flu vaccine give you the flu? Can people receiving the nasal spray flu vaccine pass the vaccine viruses to others?

A.

Unlike the flu shot, the nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are attenuated (weakened) and cannot cause flu illness. The weakened viruses are cold-adapted, which means they are designed to only cause infection at the cooler temperatures than found within the human body. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where warmer temperatures exist.

Some children and young adults 2 - 17 years of age have reported experiencing mild reactions after receiving seasonal nasal spray flu vaccine, including runny nose, nasal congestion or cough, chills, tiredness/weakness, sore throat and headache. Some adults 18 - 49 years of age have reported runny nose or nasal congestion, cough, chills, tiredness/weakness, sore throat and headache. These side effects are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of influenza infection.

Available data indicates that both children and adults vaccinated with the nasal spray can shed flu viruses for less than or equal to 2 days after being vaccinated. However, virus shedding should not be equated with person-to-person transmission of the flu from the vaccine. The risk of getting infected with vaccine virus after close contact with a person vaccinated with the nasal-spray flu vaccine is very low.

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Q16.

What are antiviral drugs? What are the benefits of antiviral drugs? Who should take antiviral drugs for the flu?

A.

While the CDC recommends the flu vaccine as the first and most important step in preventing flu, antiviral drugs are a second line of defense against the flu.

There are two antiviral drugs recommended by the CDC: oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza). Tamiflu is available as a pill or liquid and Relenza is a powder that is inhaled. Antiviral drugs are not sold over-the-counter and are different from antibiotics. You can only get them if you have a prescription from your doctor or health care provider.

When used for treatment, antivirals can shorten the time you are sick and also prevent serious flu complications. Antivirals have been shown to reduce the duration of symptoms by 1 - 1 ½ days when the treatment is started within the first 48 hours becoming ill.

Most healthy persons who become sick with the flu, or persons who are recovering from influenza, do not need antiviral medications for treatment or prophylaxis. However, as CDC’s guidance states, persons with more severe cases of influenza and flu-related complications should receive antiviral therapy, regardless of previous health or age. In addition, all persons with suspected or confirmed influenza requiring hospitalization or are at high risk for complications/severe cases of the flu also should receive antivirals.