Flu season is now in full swing and if it is anything like last year it will be a bad one. Last year it was estimated that there were between 3-5 million cases of severe flu worldwide. I wanted to take a minute and discuss some of the common signs and symptoms and treatments for influenza.
First, influenza is an upper respiratory disease. Often I see people complaining of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea and they think they have the flu when actually they have a stomach virus. Actual influenza has symptoms of a runny nose, fever, cough, headache, body aches, sore throat, and chills. The symptoms usually show up within 1-4 days of exposure. Influenza is spread by respiratory droplets usually from an infected person not covering their cough, sneezing, or even talking and another individual breathing those droplets in. Once a person is infected with the flu virus they are then contagious for about 7 days.
The most important thing an individual can do to prevent influenza is to get a flu shot. It is recommended for anyone over the age of 6 months to get a flu shot. The best time to get the vaccination is in late October however, it is not too late to get it all the way through the flu season which can last until February or March. One common myth associated with flu shots is that it will give you the flu. This false, the flu shot is made from inactivated or dead flu cells and therefore can not actually infect a person. But just because you have gotten a flu shot doesn’t mean you still can’t get influenza. There are many different strains of influenza viruses and the shot mainly protects from the most deadly. The vaccine has also been shown to reduce the severity of influenza and reduce the number of influenza deaths in children.
Treatment of Influenza is largely symptomatic. A runny nose is treated with decongestants like pseudoephedrine. Body aches and fever with anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or naproxen and cough with dextromethorphan. It is recommended to get extra rest and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. There are prescription medications that are available to treat influenza and Oseltamivir or Tamiflu is the most common. If a patient is going to be started on a prescription medication it should be started in the first 48 hours of symptom onset. The CDC has published guidelines to help guide providers on who should get prescription medications. The following is a list of those who should receive treatment:
- Anyone younger than 2 and older than 65.
- Those with a chronic medical condition like asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, kidney or liver problems, neurologic disease, HIV / AIDs, intellectual disability, or cancer.
- Pregnant or postpartum women
- American Indians / Alaska natives
- The extremely obese
- residents of nursing homes.
Hopefully, this helps clear up a few myths and answers a few questions with regards to Influenza. One thing is for sure having influenza is not fun. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So wash your hands and cover your coughs people.