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Health & Wellness
Itís FLU SEASON
By Dr. Bhumi Upadhyay
What really is the flu? Is it the common cold? Is it the stomach
bug? Flu is a highly contagious respiratory virus caused by the
influenza virus. It can cause mild to severe symptoms. As much as
20% of the population gets the flu every year. There are more than
200,000 hospitalizations and even 30,000 deaths from complications
of the flu yearly.
How can you tell the difference from a common cold? The flu is
usually a rapid and violent onset of runny nose, cough and fever.
The worst of the symptoms will last 5-7 days but you can feel mild
symptoms even up to 3 weeks. Other symptoms include headache,
tiredness, sore throat, muscle or body aches, and stomach symptoms
such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. There can also be
complications of the flu. These include ear infections, sinus
infections, pneumonia, dehydration, asthma exacerbation, or
worsening of any underlying chronic disease such as diabetes.
Those at highest risk for complications are the young children,
the elderly, and anyone with an underlying chronic illness.
How does the flu spread? The flu virus spreads from person to
person through respiratory droplets, which mean coughing or
sneezing. This occurs when an infected person coughs or sneezes
and the infected droplet jets through the air and deposits on the
mouth or nose of another person. Spread can also occur when a
person touches droplets of an infected person and then touches his
mouth or nose before washing hands. The flu is highly contagious!
An infected person can actually spread the virus one day prior to
symptoms, so you can infect someone even before you get sick! A
person remains infective until 5 days into the illness.
The flu is a seasonal virus and mainly affects us during the
winter months. Flu virus mainly spreads from November through
April with peak in December/January. Certain flu seasons will be
more severe if the major circulating strain is not in the vaccine
formulation selected by the World Health organization. This is
called a mismatch strain.
The best protection is prevention. Here are a few steps: get your
flu vaccine, wash hands, stay home if you are not feeling well,
and use the elbow to cough.
As mentioned earlier, children are at greater risk for the flu and
its complications. More than 30% of school aged children get the
flu. Approximately 20,000 children are hospitalized annually from
flu complications and about 100 deaths result in children
annually. Due to these statistics, the CDC has changed the annual
vaccination recommendation. Previous recommendation was all
children between the ages of 6 months to 59 months should receive
the annual vaccine, and all children above 5 years old with any
underlying medical conditions should also receive the vaccine.
This year, the new recommendation is all children ages 6 months to
18 years old regardless of medical condition should get an annual
vaccine. Even though the vaccine only contains the most popular
strains of the flu, it will still give some protection against the
mismatched strains mentioned earlier. There are a few reasons why
a person cannot get the vaccine, such as severe egg allergy,
previous allergic reaction to the vaccine, or having history of
Guillain Barre Syndrome. Individuals with fever should just delay
the vaccine until symptoms resolve.
If you think you may have flu symptoms, you should see your doctor
as soon as possible. The flu can be diagnosed in the office with a
rapid flu test, and antiviral medication may be an option if
diagnosed in the first 48-72 hours. In addition, supportive care
is the best option-plenty of fluids, rest, vitamin C, probiotics,
and acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed. Remember no aspirin and
no cold medications for the children!!
The flu season can cause a lot of anxiety. Just remember,
prevention is the key. Discuss with your doctor your options for
the flu vaccine. December 8-14, 2008, is the official National
Influenza Vaccination Week to get the awareness out there to the