Fight the Flu with Three Easy Steps
As flu season approaches, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest the following to help keep you, your loved ones and our patients healthy:
Get the flu vaccine
Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated. This is the most important step in protecting against flu viruses.
Take preventative actions to stop the spread of germs
Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them
If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can treat your illness. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics and are not available over-the-counter.
Brush up on your flu knowledge with answers to commonly asked questions provided
by John K. Lee, MD, a family medicine physician with Memorial's South Sixth Medical Associates.
Q. What are the different flu vaccinations available?
A. There is the standard inactivated flu vaccine, which is not a live vaccine. It contains a killed virus and is given by injection. It's used in those age 6 months and older. It's recommended that those who have chronic illnesses use this form. But anyone can receive this flu shot, whether you're healthy or suffer from a chronic disease. There's also a live attenuated vaccine, which can be taken in a nasal spray form. Because it's a live virus, it's not recommended for those with chronic conditions. It's also not recommended for those who are pregnant or for healthcare providers who deal with immunocompromised patients. The age range for this vaccine is from 2 to 49 years old.
Q. What does the flu vaccination protect you from?
A. The current flu for this year will provide immunity toward three viruses: two influenza A (H1N1 and H3N2) viruses and an influenza B virus. Researchers believe these are the most common viruses infecting people during flu season.
Q. For which groups is the flu shot most highly recommended?
A. People who are 50 years and older, have a medical condition (such as asthma, cancer, diabetes and heart, lung or kidney disease), are nursing home residents, are pregnant, are healthcare providers or who live with children who are 6 months or younger or live with someone who has a high risk for flu complications.
Q. What are the recommendations for children?
A. Children should receive the vaccine as early as 6 months. It's split into two doses until 35 months of age. Children younger than 9 who never received the H1N1 last season should get two doses of the flu shot this year.
Q. When should one get a flu vaccination?
A. As soon as the flu vaccine is available. The sooner you get the shot, the better because it takes roughly two weeks for us to develop antibodies to the influenza virus. Flu season can start as early as October, reach its climax in January or later and last until May.
Q. What are symptoms of the flu?
A. Fatigue, muscle aches, nasal congestion or runny nose, cough, possibly fever, sore throat, headaches, possible diarrhea. More serious complications that could develop include sinus infection, ear infection, pneumonia, dehydration, even death. The latter problems can especially happen in those with chronic conditions.
Q. When should you seek a physician?
A. When patients start having any of the symptoms above, it's good to get checked out by their primary care physician, especially if you have a child, are elderly, have a chronic condition or are pregnant.
It's very difficult to distinguish the flu from other infections on the basis of symptoms alone. A doctor's exam may be needed to tell whether you have developed the flu or a complication of the flu. There are tests that can determine if you have the flu as long you're tested within the first two or three days of illness.
Rajesh Govindaiah, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Memorial Health System in Springfield, IL, discusses the most common myths about the annual flu vaccine.