The flu season is quickly approaching and my hope is that this article will better prepare you for its arrival. Influenza, or the “flu,” is a contagious illness of the respiratory tract that is caused by several strains of the influenza virus. Most experts believe that it is spread by droplets released when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. However, a person may be contagious one day prior to having any symptoms and can continue to spread the virus up to a week after feeling sick.
Signs and symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever/chills - Fatigue
- Cough - Body aches
- Sore throat - Headaches
- Runny nose
Since most people who get the flu recover fine with no treatment then why do we make such a big deal about it?
Well, unfortunately the flu can be very serious, especially for certain people at higher risk of potential complications due to weakened immune systems including young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic diseases like asthma/COPD, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, etc.
As with most medical conditions, when it comes to the flu it really is 1 that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The best way to prevent getting the flu is to practice proper hygiene (e.g. frequent hand washing, covering mouth while sneezing) and to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months old should be vaccinated and puts special emphasis on people in the high-risk groups previously mentioned. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up an immune response after receiving the vaccine, and since we never know when the flu season will hit each year, the recommendation is to get vaccinated as soon as it becomes available.
One of the barriers to getting vaccinated, in my experience, is that people have misconceptions about the vaccine.
Here is the truth behind some of the common myths:
1. You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. I do however inform my patients to be prepared for possible symptoms such as muscle soreness and low-grade temperature after receiving the vaccine as this is a normal response of the immune system ramping up and is actually a sign that the vaccine is working. Also, remember that the vaccine only protects you against the three most common flu virus strains predicted for this year. There are dozens of other illnesses that mimic the flu, which unfortunately you are still susceptible to even after getting vaccinated.
2. The vaccine is extremely safe. There are very few reasons why someone should not get vaccinated, and I encourage you to talk to your primary care provider for details.
3. Even if you have “never had the flu” in previous years, it doesn’t mean that it is still not a good idea to get vaccinated. You may be healthy, but it is likely there is someone you are in contact with who may be at higher risk if you were to pass the flu on to him or her.
Finally, what should you do if you think you have the flu?
There are medicines available that can decrease the severity of the flu; however they must be given very soon after symptoms develop and generally are reserved for people who are at higher risk of developing complications. In most cases however, simple conservative care including rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and staying home if possible to prevent spreading illness is all that is recommended.
For more information visit: www.cdc.gov/flu and talk to your primary care provider for individual recommendations. If you do not have a primary care provider, McDowell Hospital would be pleased to serve you for all of your health care needs. Contact 659-5000 to establish care with one of our highly qualified providers today.
Dr. Jeff Domingus is a Doctor of Osteopathy, currently practicing at Sugar Hill Primary Care. He will be relocating to Mission Family Medicine – Nebo in winter. For more information on Primary Care Services offered, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Domingus, call 828-659-3621 today.