Winter is coming…and so is the flu!
Your health is important so we are available to help you prepare your body’s best defense -your immune system- for not only the influenza virus but all the other viruses that circulate during the winter months.
Last year the CDC estimated that almost 49 million people got sick with influenza-related illnesses causing missed work and school. While most people who contract influenza will recover without serious complications, some can progress to serious illness, hospitalization and even death. Persons at greatest risk include older adults, very young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions or those who are immunocompromised by a disease process or medications.
Symptoms of the flu include abrupt onset of fever and chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Symptoms of the flu are typically more severe than the common cold. Symptoms can begin within 2 days of exposure and persons are contagious sometimes 1 day before symptoms even begin and up to 7 days after becoming sick.
The other viruses may also be circulating during the flu season and can mimic the flu. Respiratory infections in children and infants include parainfluenza viruses which cause croup, RSV bronchiolitis, and pneumonia.
Getting Prepared Prior To Flu Season
1) Get vaccinated! The CDC recommends all people 6 months and older to receive a flu vaccination. This includes pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions. There are various forms of the flu vaccine. So speak to your medical provider about which type is best suited for you. People who have a severe egg allergy or a history of Guillain Barre´ Syndrome (GBS) should not receive the flu vaccine. For a more in-depth explanation of vaccines, please visit https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/flushot.htm.
The vaccine CANNOT cause the flu because it is an “inactivated” or killed form of the virus and it is typically made from a single gene rather than the full virus. The main purpose of a vaccine is to activate your immune system to make antibodies that will recognize and eliminate the virus when you are re-exposed to it in the future. This allows your body to clear out the flu before it can cause illness. (https://www.publichealth.org/public-awareness/understanding-vaccines/vaccines-work/)
2) Wash your hands! Cover your cough! Viruses and bacteria are typically transmitted via respiratory droplets where they can be inhaled, touched and subsequently ingested. They can also be transmitted via any mucosal barrier including the eyes and nose.
3) Manage your stress! Several studies have shown that people with elevated levels of stress have a 3-4 times higher chance of catching a cold.
4) Eat well! Eating a balanced meal that consists of fresh veggies and fruits and low in sugar and processed foods can help give your immune system a fighting chance.
5) Supplements that can help ward off the cold or limit your symptoms:
- Garlic can reduce the number of colds and the duration of symptoms.
- Zinc can be preventative. Zinc is found naturally in nuts, beans, beef, chickens and especially oysters.
- Probiotics have been shown to decrease the frequency and severity of respiratory infections in children.
- Vitamin D may decrease the frequency and severity of respiratory infections. (1200 IU per day in school kids, 800 – 2000 IU per day in adults).
- Vitamin C has shown some benefit in reducing the duration and severity of the common cold, but research is limited.
- Echinacea has been shown to reduce the number of colds and duration of symptoms and is generally safe for short term use.
- Elderberry Extract has been shown to reduce flu symptoms from 6 days to 2 days due to its potent antiviral effect on the flu viral proteins.
Always consult your healthcare provider before starting any supplements.
I think I Have the Flu, Now What?
There are several prescription medications for treating the influenza virus once contracted; Tamiflu® is the medication most commonly prescribed. If started within 48 hours of symptom onset, medications can lessen the duration and severity of the illness. All types of medications can be prescribed to children but may have age limitations. Most are safe in pregnancy but always consult with your
doctor. Your medical provider will discuss the risks versus the benefit of starting a flu medication.
When Should I Seek Medical Care?
Most cases of the common cold and even flu can be managed at home. However, people can get worsening symptoms requiring medical evaluation. You should seek medical care or Emergency Care when you feel profound fatigue, dizziness, pain that is worrisome or different, shortness of breath or anything you are not comfortable with managing at home. You should also seek care if you are immunocompromised in any way or have a chronic medical condition in which the flu could worsen. If you would like to take an antiviral medication, you can make an appointment with your primary care provider or go to your local Emergency Center.
Submitted by Dr. Ruby Rose of Signature Care ER