The United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year. We call it flu season, and although it occurs in winter, flu outbreaks can start as early as October and last as late as May.
The flu, also called influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by the influenza viruses. This virus generally enters the body through mucous membranes in the mouth, nose or eyes. Older adults, young children and people with compromised immune systems and other health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
Each year in the United States, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population gets the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with it, and about 23,600 people die from it.
Generally, when a flu-infected person coughs or sneezes, the virus becomes airborne. This live virus can then be inhaled by anyone in the area. It can also be spread when a person touches a contaminated surface such as a telephone or door knob, and then touches their nose or mouth.
The risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas such as schools, buses and crowded urban settings. The risk is also high in small spaces, such as yachts.
Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting. Not everyone with influenza will have a fever (a temperature of 100 degrees F [37.8C] or greater). Yacht crew should consider someone to have a fever if the patient feels warm to the touch, indicates they feel hot or feverish, or when you actually measure their temperature as 100 degrees or higher.
Screen and Isolate. If a passenger or crew member has influenza-like illness (ILI) before leaving port, they should be advised against traveling for at least 24 hours after the fever ends (without the use of fever-reducing medications). This is not only best for the individual, it is best for everyone onboard.
Passengers and crew with ILI already onboard when the symptoms begin should be medically evaluated and remain isolated in their cabins until at least 24 hours after their fever naturally ends.
If sending a passenger or crew member with ILI to a medical facility, notify the facility in advance. And use care in transporting the sick person so as not to infect others along the way.
Limit exposure. Individuals suspected of influenza should be separated from other passengers and crew as much as possible. They should also wear a face mask to prevent the airborne spread of the virus. Proper hygiene is important and these Individuals should be reminded of the importance of covering their mouth with a tissue when they cough or sneeze.
If the sick individual shares a cabin with someone else, when possible the healthy person should be moved to another cabin to lessen the chance of them becoming infected.
If someone on board is sick, remind all passengers and crew to wash their hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Other suggestions to limit the spread while onboard include limiting the time spent with the sick person to as little as possible. Also, limit the number of people who visit the ill person. When possible, assign one person to deliver meals, medication and all other deliveries. This person delivering care should wear fresh disposable mask and gloves each time.
Prevent and Treat. The Centers for Disease Control recommends flu vaccine as the first and most important step in preventing flu. Crew members and guests who have contact with sick persons should wear personal protective equipment such as face masks, N95 respirators, and disposable gloves.
If you have a high risk condition and get flu symptoms, check with a doctor promptly. The doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs, the second line of defense against flu.
Preventing and containing the flu is the best way to survive any epidemic that may come this winter.
Trained as an emergency medical technician, Keith Murray now owns The CPR School, which provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service. Contact him through www.TheCPRSchool.com.