How do you minimize the risk of catching 'the flu'? What do you do if you catch it? Who should get the flu shot and when should you get it? DR SANDEEP CHANDRA on tackling the flu virus.
IInfluenza, commonly referred to as “The Flu” is clearly a very common malady which affects nearly everyone at some point or the other. For the most part it is an inconvenience but can be serious. There is no way to completely prevent it, but there are ways to minimize the chances of acquiring it. Some sobering statistics about the Flu are as follows:
*5 – 20% of entire population gets the flu every year.
*200,000 people are hospitalized due to the flu or its complications.
*36,000 people die from the flu every year. Older and younger people as well as patients with certain health conditions are felt to be at higher risk for death.
Fortunately, the flu is easy to recognize. The most common symptoms are as follows:
*Fever (usually higher than 100 degrees)
*Sore throat, runny nose and a dry cough
*In children, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are common.
The flu by itself is not extremely dangerous but can lead to some severe conditions such as:
*worsening of chronic medical conditions such as asthma and heart failure.
*It can also cause high blood sugar in diabetic individuals.
There is no definitive cure for the flu. Antibiotics do not help as they kill bacteria:
the flu is caused by a virus. They can help with complications of the flu, referred to as
superinfections. There are some antiviral medications with moderate efficacy, which are reserved for people who are very sick from the flu or at risk for severe complications. This assessment has to be made by a physician. One can attempt to feel better by using decongestants, cough suppressants and acetaminophen for fever and pain. These modalities are limited in their duration of efficacy.
The best treatment is prevention. If one does contract the flu, one should stay rested and well hydrated.
Finally, keep it to yourself, there is no need to share it with everyone around you.
In learning how to prevent the flu, one needs to understand how it spreads. The flu spreads via small drops in the air and by touch. Being in an enclosed area with someone with the flu who is coughing and sneezing puts you at a high risk for catching it. Touching something, which may have been contaminated by someone with the flu, and then touching your mouth and nose also gives the virus a chance to travel into your respiratory system. The influenza virus is also very insidious.
A person can be infectious a day prior to developing any symptoms at all and then for up to seven days after symptoms begin.
Strategies for minimizing risk of catching the flu:
*Wash your hands before eating or wiping your nose or eyes. If possible, keep a bottle of antiseptic gel to be used frequently in the flu season.
*Avoid close contact with people with the flu
*Encourage coworkers with the flu to rest at home
*Keep yourself well hydrated and rested
*Consider boosting your immune system with stress free lifestyle habits (will give suggestions in upcoming articles) and Vitamin C.
The only proven way to prevent getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine. There are currently two types of vaccines
*The shot: this contains killed virus (called inactive)
*The nasal spray: this contains the live virus, which is weakened enough so it won’t cause the flu, but will strengthen the body’s ability to fight the infection. This can only be given to people with healthy immune systems, which implies age 5 or greater and otherwise healthy.
It cannot be given to pregnant women.
Common questions regarding the flu shot:
When to get the shot? October and November are the best months to get the
vaccine, although we believe it is worth getting it as late as December and January. Protection begins two weeks after the shot.
Who should get the shot? Anyone above the age of six months may get the shot with some exceptions (please see “who should not get the shot”). However, for most it’s not mandatory. People at risk for complications from the flu should get the shot every year.
Following is a list of high risk situations:
* Age 65 or older
* People in nursing homes or long term care facilities
*Chronic heart conditions such as heart failure or heart valve problems
*Chronic lung diseases such as asthma or emphysema
*Diabetes or other chronic medical conditions such as kidney or liver disease
*Weakened immune systems due to cancer or HIV/AIDS
*Individuals 6 months to 18 years who are on chronic aspirin therapy as they can be at risk for Reye’s syndrome
*Children 6 to 23 months
*People in close contact with any of the above which includes health care workers and individuals caring for infants, toddlers and elderly or debilitated family members.
·Who should not get the shot?
*People with allergy to chicken eggs
*People who have had a severe reaction to the influenza vaccine in the past
*People with the Guillian Barre Syndrome after receiving a “flu shot”
*Children less than six months of age
*People who are sick with fever currentl
The Shortage: This year due to defects in manufacturing there will be half as many shots available. However, as of my recent research you can still get the shot by calling your local health department. Some of our patients have been able to get them at the local supermarkets as well.
Please keep in mind that those who are at high risk for complications from influenza should have the opportunity first to obtain a flu shot.
What to do when you get the flu?
· Most common symptoms are fever, pains, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose and cough
*Symptoms generally last 7 to 10 days
*Supportive measures include keeping well hydrated with water or non caffeinated beverages. Be careful about sugar content if you are diabetic
*Over the counter analgesics and cough suppressants are okay.
*You can use decongestants if you do not have high blood pressure or heart problems. If you do have those, avoid decongestants or use them with your doctors knowledge.
*Vitamin C and Zinc tablets can be used for adults. (This is anecdotally supported, no scientific data so far).
Echinacea is gaining popularity also.
When to call the doctor
*Signs of Reye’s Syndrome, a serious illness in children and teens, develop 3 to 7 days after the start of symptoms of the flu or another viral respiratory illness. Reyes syndrome typically occurs in children who receive aspirin while they have a viral infection. They typically will get confused, disoriented can lose consciousness and have seizures.
*Symptoms had improved, but are now getting worse again
*Signs of ear infection (pain in the ear), sinus infection (green or yellow colored nasal discharge), bronchitis and pneumonia (colored phlegm)
*Influenza develops in a person over age 65 who has other health problems (lung, heart, or kidney disease or diabetes) or in someone who is being treated with chemotherapy for cancer.
*Influenza develops in a person of any age who has a long-term respiratory illness, such as asthma or emphysema.
*Symptoms include fever over 101 °F(38.33 °C), shaking chills, and a cough that produces mucus from the lungs (productive cough).
*Difficulty breathing or chest pain develops
*Fever does not improve within a few days
*Condition progressively deteriorates or if you are unsure
*Dehydration, if unable to drink adequately.
As annoying as the flu is, it sometimes forces you to get the rest you probably needed. Stay rested, hydrated and wash hands frequently to keep clear of the flu.
The contents are meant for informative, educational purposes only. Formal recommendations can only be made by physicians involved in your care. Please check with your physician before acting on any part of this article.