Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Best Defense Against the Flu
What is the flu?
A common, highly contagious, serious—and potentially deadly—respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. It attacks the respiratory system, causing a runny nose, cough, and sore throat. But that’s only the beginning. It also wreaks havoc over the entire body—causing headaches, muscle or body aches, fever of 100oF or higher, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children).
And, it doesn’t stop there! The flu virus can lead to a number of moderate to serious complications, particularly in children aged 6 months to 5 years, pregnant women (and their fetus), adults older than 65, people with weak immune systems, and those with chronic health conditions (e.g., heart disease, lung disease, diabetes).
Complications include ear and sinus infections; bronchitis; pneumonia; dehydration; inflammation of the heart, muscle, and brain; multi-organ failure of the kidneys or respiratory system (that may require placement of a breathing tube and being hooked up to a breathing machine); and sepsis (the body’s life-threatening response to infection).
Anyone can be affected by the flu and there are steps everyone can take to prevent it and protect against its spread.
Get a Flu Vaccine: The absolute best protection is getting immunized — which not only protects you, but those around you! Many of the hospitalizations, complications, and deaths from last season occurred in those not vaccinated. The CDC recommends everyone over 6-months get the flu vaccine, every year.
Those who are immunized and still catch the flu, generally have a decreased risk of complications, hospitalizations, and death. In other words, the flu shot blunts the impact and offers a vital level of protection.
Make sure to discuss options and forms with your healthcare provider or pharmacist, to determine which is best for you.
Now is the Time:
The best time to get your flu vaccination is as soon as it becomes available, which is now. It typically takes your body’s immune system up to 2 weeks to manufacture the antibodies that can attack the influenza virus, so it is important to get vaccinated now—don’t delay!
I often hear people wrongly state “I got sick from the flu shot.” No, you cannot get the flu from the vaccine because it is formulated from inactivated/dead virus—it’s impossible. When someone does get the flu shortly after, it is likely that they were exposed to the virus before antibodies were formed. Or, the influenza strain that infected them was not one that the vaccine protects against.
Avoid Contact with Sick People:
The influenza virus can:
- float in the air as droplets and can travel 6 feet after someone coughs or sneezes
- survive on surfaces or objects and infect you if they come into contact with your mouth or nose
- be contagious for up to a week after symptoms start
It’s important for anyone who is infected to stay home from work, school or activities. Also, be attentive to good, frequent handwashing and if soap isn’t available, use alcohol-based sanitizer. And make sure to cough or sneeze into a sleeve (or tissue) to avoid virus from becoming airborne and clean surfaces and objects that may be exposed.
There are FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs that your healthcare provider may prescribe to make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. These medications are most effective when started within 48 hours and should be considered, in particular, for those who are at an increased risk for flu complications.
Over-the-counter medications are available to treat symptoms including fever, aches, sore throat, and runny, congested nose as well as post-nasal drip. Read labels carefully and avoid taking medications that have the same ingredients or have ingredients that would interact. If you are unsure, speak to your pharmacist.
It is also very important to drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration may occur because of fever, lack of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea. And, stay home, rest, and recover!
Given the severity of recent flu seasons, now is the time to do everything you can to help protect yourself.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures.
She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.