Influenza and Coronavirus
This time of year primary care offices brace for what is typically call the “flu season”. This year is no different except that influenza is superimposed on a pandemic of coronavirus. When I first published this post, I didn’t know these same basic recommendations would be helpful to fight this new and deadlier infectious disease-COVID-19.
At this time, most of these points also seem to apply to COVID-19, except unfortunately, number 3; however several vaccines have been under development and one or two may be available through emergency use authorization within weeks. Finally some good news about this crisis.
1. If you think you have the “flu”, you probably don’t.
To many people “the flu” is any respiratory illness characterized by fever, cough, congestion, fatigue and aches. That term has become so nonspecific even we doctors use it that way. But flu should refer to influenza, one of many viruses that cause respiratory illness.
The other viral respiratory illnesses are
- rhinosinusitis, aka “colds”, upper respiratory infections-URIs,
2. If your doctor thinks you have “the flu”, you probably do.
Prior to the “rapid flu” test, we doctors diagnosed influenza by the characteristic symptoms, exam, and knowing there was an outbreak in the community. The test is helpful for confirmation but not 100 % accurate, and likely the Coronvirus test is not either.
3. The best way to prevent influenza is by vaccination.
The World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) ,the National Foundation for Infectious Disease and other reputable medical organizations recommend vaccination against influenza.
People refuse vaccination because they believe it is ineffective, unnecessary, dangerous, toxic, unnatural, subversive, and who knows what else. I don’t think I or anyone else are going to change their minds.
My family and I always get vaccinations which have successfully protected us without side effects or adverse reactions. There are risks, just like there are with any medical procedure, or lots of other things we do in life. In this case we have decided the benefit outweighs the risk.
If you don’t want a “flu shot”, just say no. Your doctor doesn’t need or want to hear a speech; we’ve already heard them all.
4. Stay away from others if you are sick.
It’s not a coincidence that influenza outbreaks coincide with the American holiday season (approximately November through January). So to protect us all,
- Stay home if you are sick, and ask your family, co-workers and employees to do the same.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing; use your sleeve, not your hand.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Wash your hands frequently, thoroughly, and long enough.
- Wash frequently touched surfaces with disinfectant.
5. If you do get sick, don’t ask your doctor for an antibiotic. It will not help.
Antibiotics attack bacteria. Influenza and 99% of all respiratory illnesses are due to viruses.
There are antiviral drugs that will “shorten the duration and severity of symptoms” by 1-2 days, if started early. The effectiveness is uncertain for an illness that will resolve within 10-14 days regardless. But if it gets you back to school or work a day earlier, it may be worth the cost-they are not cheap drugs.
Otherwise, the treatment is“symptomatic” or “supportive” care:
- Rest; eat and drink as normally as possible; extra fluids if running a fever
- Non-prescription cough/congestion /pain/fever meds
Acetaminophen for aches and fever
Lozenges for sore throat, cough, and congestion
Breathing moist air with the use of a humidifier helps with cough and congestion
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6. You can die from influenza, but you probably won’t.
People die from complications of influenza, and infants, young children and the elderly have greatest risk.The most common fatal complication is bacterial pneumonia, infection in the lung. Influenza can also attack the nervous system causing brain inflammation (encephalitis and/or meningitis) and paralysis in the form of Guillain Barre syndrome .
Persons with chronic illnesses like diabetes, lung disorders, depressed immune systems and cancer are at greater risk of complications and should always consult a physician if feeling ill. If you are not sure if you fall into that category, ask your doctor.
what you really need to know
We should all take influenza and COVID-19 seriously; consider my suggestions, talk to your personal doctor, keep up with recommendations from your local public health professionals, and do your part to keep your family and community well.
Here are some previous posts about infections .
“Most common infections, such as colds, flu, most sore throats, bronchitis, and many sinus and ear infections, are caused by viruses and do not respond to antibiotic treatment. “
“You may think of antibiotics as safe, harmless drugs with no potential for serious effects. Usually antibiotics are well tolerated and safe. But serious side effects are possible, though infrequent.”
“If you have a bacterial sinus infection with more than mild symptoms, an antibiotic may relieve symptoms and help you recover sooner. “
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