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Content on this page was developed during the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic and has not been updated.

  • The H1N1 virus that caused that pandemic is now a regular human flu virus and continues to circulate seasonally worldwide.
  • The English language content on this website is being archived for historic and reference purposes only.
  • For current, updated information on seasonal flu, including information about H1N1, see the CDC Seasonal Flu website.

Action Steps for People at Higher Risk for Flu Complications

November 6, 2009, 6:00 PM ET

Pregnant women, children under 5 years of age, people 65 years of age and older, and people with chronic health problems (such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, metabolic conditions, and neurologic and neuromuscular disorders) are at higher risk for having complications from flu.

If you are not sure if you or any family member is at higher risk for flu complications, information is available online or check with your healthcare provider.

Keep yourself and others healthy.

  • Get vaccinated for seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 flu (if recommended). It is especially important that parents and caregivers of children less than 6 months of age get vaccinated. These children are at higher risk for flu complications and are too young to be vaccinated.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then throw it away in the trash.  If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder, not into your hands.  Teach your children how to do this.
  • Practice good handwashing by washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand rub can be used. Parents and child care providers should wash the hands of children who cannot yet wash themselves and closely monitor children who have not yet mastered proper ability to wash hands.
  • Keep away from people who are sick.
  • Clean surfaces and objects that are frequently touched.  Wipe these surfaces with a household disinfectant, following the directions on the product label.  Additional disinfection of these surfaces beyond routine cleaning is not recommended.
  • Consider staying away from public gatherings if you are at higher risk for complications from the flu and have not been vaccinated. When there is flu in your community, consider your risk of exposure if you attend public gatherings, such as sporting events and concerts. Staying away may reduce your chances of becoming sick.

Know if you are sick with the flu.

  • It is important to watch carefully for the signs and symptoms of flu. Symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and tiredness. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with flu, including the 2009 H1N1 flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
  • Watch for emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention. These warning signs include one or more of the following:
    • In children
      • Fast breathing, trouble breathing, shortness of breath, or stopping breathing
      • Bluish, purplish, or gray skin color, especially around the lips, inside the mouth, or around the nails
      • Not drinking enough fluids or refusing to drink
      • Not waking up or not interacting
      • Being irritable(a child may not want to be held or cannot be consoled)
      • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
      • Fever with a rash
    • In adults
      • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
      • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
      • Sudden dizziness
      • Confusion
      • Severe or persistent vomiting

Tips for taking care of people sick with the flu:

  • People at higher risk for complications because of age, or a medical condition should contact their health care provider immediately to find out if antiviral flu medicines are recommended. This is important because treatment with antiviral medicines that fight the flu should be started as early as possible. They work best when started within the first 2 days of getting sick. Your health care provider will tell you what special care is needed. More information about high risk conditions is available.
  • Keep sick people at home until at least 24 hours after they no longer have a fever or signs of a fever without the need for a fever-reducing medicine. Keep sick people home unless they need to go to their health care provider.
  • Know the warning signs of serious illness that require emergency treatment.
  • Make sure sick people get plenty of rest and drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, or sports drinks) to prevent dehydration. For infants, use electrolyte drinks (such as Pedialyte®).
  • For a fever, use fever-reducing medicines (such as Tylenol™, aspirin, or Motrin™) that your health care provider recommends. Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) should not be given to children or teenagers; this can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.
  • Keep the sick person in a separate room (a sick room) in the house as much as possible to limit contact with household members who are not sick. Consider designating a single person as the main caregiver. This should not be someone at high risk for complications from the flu. Additional information about caring for sick household members is available.
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