What To Do About the Flu
It’s everywhere—the CDC says that the flu in the United States has reached epidemic levels. The H3N2 flu virus strain has mutated since this year’s flu vaccine was developed, so the vaccine is not offering as much protection as was hoped. I talked with a very worried father of a 3 month old just last week, and he was quite concerned about what he could do to protect his baby from the influenza virus. So what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
First and foremost, get a flu shot. Everyone over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated. If you are over the age of 65, ask your doctor about the high-dose flu vaccine, which will give you a better immune response. It is not too late, and there are 3 other influenza strains besides H2N3 that are in the vaccine. It takes about 2 weeks after you get the vaccine to build some immunity. These strains could still circulate this year. Depending on where you live, flu season can last until June. And, even if you do get the flu, you will most likely not get as sick as those who did not get a flu shot.
How do I know if I have the flu or just a bad cold? Flu symptoms usually come on quickly. One of my little patients was fine in the morning and went to school. Two hours later, her mother picked her up with fever, cough, and vomiting.
Runny nose, cough, and sometimes fever are the main symptoms of a cold. Flu symptoms include cough, fever, some nasal congestion, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, sore throat, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.
Are there any medications that can be taken for the flu? Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) can be taken for fever and aches. Adults can take over-the-counter antihistamines, decongestants, and cough medications. Children, especially those under the age of 4 years, should not take any cough or cold medications. If you choose to see your doctor and have a positive flu test, the doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication like Tamiflu or Relenza. Antivirals interfere with the replication of the flu virus, and they can shorten the duration of the illness and can help patients from becoming dangerously ill. These medications must be taken within 48 hours of the start of symptoms in order to be effective.
It is extremely important to keep those who have the flu well-hydrated. It’s sometimes very hard to get sick people to consume fluids, but dehydration is a big risk when you are sick and have a fever. Try to drink plenty of clear liquids like water and broth. Watered-down sports drinks are ok, as well as Pedialyte (even for adults). Ginger ale is good especially if there is nausea or stomach upset. Try small amounts of popsicles, ice chips, or Jello. Sometimes drinking through a straw helps.
When should I see the doctor? If you are having trouble breathing, fast breathing, or can’t keep fluids down, you should see the doctor. If you cannot get in to see your doctor you may need to go to the emergency room. Other signs of a medical emergency include severe and persistent vomiting, bluish or gray skin color, dizziness or confusion, or excessive lethargy or irritability. In babies and children, they should see a doctor if you can’t get them to drink and if they have no tears or have not urinated more than 1-2 times in 24 hours. If you have a chronic illness like diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or other condition that may make you sicker if you get the flu you should also see your doctor.
The person who is sick should be isolated from the rest of the family. They should have their own bedroom and bathroom if possible. The sick person and anyone who is caring for them should use hand sanitizer and frequent, thorough handwashing. Cough into the elbow and don’t leave used tissues lying around. Disinfect doorknobs and other common surfaces frequently—Lysol is good for this. Masks may be used. Influenza illness usually lasts 7-10 days, and a person is contagious until about 24 hours after the fever is gone. You should not leave your home unless it is to seek medical care. It’s hard if you work, but you should not expose your co-workers to the flu, and you probably will feel too ill to work.
And in the case of that father of the 3-month old, I told him that he and the baby’s mother, their nanny, and all the grandparents should get flu shots. Don’t take the baby out to places where sick people could be—including church and the grocery store. And of course, use good and frequent handwashing.
Hoping and praying for everyone to stay healthy!
Blessings to you,