Written by Dr. Cynthia Paulis Monday, 14 January 2013 00:00
So the holidays are over and now it’s time to get back into the daily grind, but lurking around on your desk, the light switch, doorknob, telephone, computer keyboard or those shopping carts could be an unwanted surprise, the flu. According to the Center for Disease Control, 44 states are now experiencing flu outbreaks and 18 deaths have already been reported, one of the youngest being a teenager in Texas who contracted the flu during the Christmas break and later died from complications of pneumonia.
The flu is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. Its symptoms can be mild with fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches and fatigue. In worst case scenarios it can cause death.
Flu viruses travel through the air in droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly or pick them up from an object and transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth. The flu virus can live from 20 minutes up to two hours on most surfaces so when you touch them and then touch your face, you have just inoculated yourself. Remember the gym you joined to get in shape, well that equipment is teaming with germs, some of which may carry the flu.
The Center for Disease Control recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first step in protecting yourself against the flu virus. There is just one catch, the flu shot only protects you against infection and illness caused by the three most common influenza viruses in the vaccine that have been identified for the season. It will not protect you against infection and illness caused by other viruses that produce influenza symptoms. How well the shot works depends also on the health and age of the person being vaccinated and how well the vaccine matches the influenza spreading in the community.
There are two types of flu vaccines, the traditional flu shot which contains a killed virus and is administered by a needle or the nasal spray flu vaccine which is made with live weakened flu virus. The nasal spray is approved for use in healthy people ages 2 to 49 years old, who are not pregnant. The traditional flu shot is given in the upper arm for people ages 6 months and older who are healthy and can also be given to people with chronic medical problems and pregnant women.
Last year a new intradermal vaccine was introduced for people ages 18 to 64 where the vaccine needle is injected into the skin rather than the muscle.
Many flu vaccines are now offered in pharmacies on a walk-in basis but it is important to check with your doctor before getting vaccinated. Some people according to the Center for Disease Center should not get vaccinated. These include:
People who have severe allergy to chicken eggs
Children younger than 6 months of age
People who have had a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past
People with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome
Typical side effects from the flu shot include soreness, redness, or swelling at the site of the injection with low grade fever, and body aches which usually last one to two days. Some people have no reaction at all. The antibodies to the flu which protect against three influenza viruses will develop two weeks after the injection and last for the flu season. The flu season can start in October, peak in January and February and run as late as May.
Since the vaccine is not 100 percent effective it’s important to take measures to reduce your chances of contracting influenza. The most effective way is to wash your hands. Scrub your hands often and vigorously for at least 15 seconds. If soap isn’t available use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough with a tissue or into your arm, not your hands, which can cause contamination.
The flu loves to lurk in crowds, childcare centers, schools, office buildings and public transportation. If it is possible for you to avoid crowds during the peak flu season, then you may reduce your chances of getting it.
If you are unlucky to contract it, there is also a prescription medicine designed to shorten the length of time and lessen the effects which you can get from your doctor. The catch is it must be taken within the first two days otherwise it really won’t work. Antibiotics will not work for the flu because they work on bacteria not viruses.
When you do have the flu, drink plenty of fluids, water, juice, and warm clear soups to prevent dehydration. You can’t go wrong with chicken soup. Get plenty of rest to help your immune system fight the infection. Take pain relievers such as Tylenol or Motrin to help with the aches, pains, and fever. Do not give aspirin to children or teens because it can cause a potentially fatal disease known as Reyes syndrome.
If you are sick, stay home. You won’t be productive and you will only be spreading the virus to everyone else.