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a woman taking her temperature

6 tips to cope during a flu epidemic

In the United States we are in the midst of a brutal influenza epidemic that is sickening thousands of people , hospitalizing hundreds, and may  kill a hundred children. As scary as that sounds, there is no need to panic. 6 tips to cope during an influenza epidemic

 

Even those who get the flu will likely fully recover. Children are still more likely to die from a motor vehicle accident than influenza. But parents should still be vigilant about protecting their families.

Here is a repeat of information I’ve shared before. Due to the enormous number of flu cases I’ve been treating in my clinic, I get home late and am exhausted. I will have some new content developed when this is over, which should be soon.

 

 

 

  1. If you think you have “the flu”, you probably don’t. (This season may be an exception.) 

Another doctor posted on Twitter , “If you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck, but you haven’t , then you have the flu.”

To many people “the flu” is any respiratory illness characterized by some combination of fever, cough, congestion, headache, fatigue,  and body aches. That term has become so nonspecific even we doctors use it that way. But it more correctly refers to influenza, which is  one of many viruses that cause illness. The illnesses caused by the other viruses are usually called “colds”, upper respiratory infections, aka URIs, bronchitis, pharyngitis, sinusitis and pneumonia.

I recommend this resource  from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to understand

influenza symptoms 

emergency warning symptoms that warrant an emergency room visit 

influenza complications 

 

 

 

The human respiratory system

The respiratory tract including the nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, trachea, bronchi in blue and the lungs (pink). Infections can involve the breathing organs from the nose all the way down to the lungs. (photo complimentary from Pixabay)

  1. If your doctor thinks you have “the flu”, you probably do.

Prior to the availability of the “rapid flu” test, we doctors diagnosed influenza by the characteristic symptoms, confirmatory findings on exam, and knowing there was an outbreak in the community. The test is not absolutely necessary but is helpful for confirmation in the event the illness doesn’t progress as expected.

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 every other reputable medical organization recommends vaccination against influenza.

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.

 

  1. If you want to avoid getting influenza, avoid being around people who may be infected.

This means everyone, since one may be contagious 2 to 3 days before symptoms. 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.
  • If you absolutely must go out among other people, put a mask over your nose and mouth.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wash frequently touched surfaces frequently.
Hand hygiene saves lives.

a common sight now in public restrooms

  1. 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.

The antiviral drug Tamiflu, generic oseltamivir,  will “shorten the duration and severity of symptoms” by 1-2 days, if started early (within 24-48 hours). There is some evidence that it will also lessen the risk of serious complications , especially in higher risk people (see below ).

I warn people that even with Tamiflu they will still feel miserable for a few days. But if it gets you back to school or work a day earlier, it may be worth the cost.

Oseltamivir can also be prescribed for prevention, if you know you have had close contact with someone with confirmed influenza, such as a household member. It’s only effective though for that episode, a 10 day course taken as soon as possible after exposure.

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

 

Don’t confuse Tamiflu (generic oseltamivir) a prescription anti-viral drug with Theraflu, an over the counter drug that treats symptoms.

Theraflu does not affect the course of the illness.

 

Here are  general guidelines  on what to do if you get a respiratory illness.

  1. You can die from influenza, but you probably won’t.

Influenza causes uncomfortable disabling symptoms but most people recover fairly quickly and fully. In some cases influenza can progress rapidly and overwhelm the respiratory and/or nervous systems,  leading to death.

People also 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 .

an xray of healthy lungs with no signs of pneumonia.

Healthy lungs with no signs of pneumonia.

 

 

High risk persons- use caution when dealing with influenza

Persons with chronic illnesses like diabetes, lung disorders, chronic liver or kidney disease, depressed immune systems and cancer , as well as infants and persons of advanced age 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.

 

Please share this important information , you may save someone’s life.

Thanks and stay well.

                                                                    Dr. Aletha 26952564_10213093560871954_4239554644472378905_o

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a man taking his temperature

How you can cope with winter illness

Where I live we recently had our first freeze of the winter. It gets dark earlier now since we “fell back” to standard time. And we’ve already had our first reported cases of influenza, which I reviewed in a previous post.

Chances are you or someone close to you will have a respiratory illness this winter , illnesses we frequently just lump into the category of “colds and flu”.  This usually means illnesses with some combination of these symptoms-

  • Sneezing, stuffy  or runny nose,
  • coughing
  • sore throat, hoarseness
  • ear pain, fullness
  • fever,
  • body aches, fatigue, 
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhea 
  • headache.

We call these by various names but they have much in common, including symptoms and treatment. Let’s talk about what you can do to cope when they hit your family.

diagram of the nose and sinuses

Winter illnesses commonly affect the nose, throat, sinuses, ears and lungs.

Don’t panic.

Most otherwise healthy people recover from common respiratory illnesses. You may be miserable for several days, and need several weeks to feel back to normal, but you won’t suffer any permanent harm.

Fever ,especially in children, alarms parents. Don’t ignore it but don’t panic either. Reading this post should help you keep calm about fever .

a woman taking her temperature

This photograph depicted a woman who was using a modern, battery-powered oral thermometer, in order to measure her body temperature. In order to return an accurate reading, this particular type of thermometer needed to be placed beneath the user’s tongue, for a set amount of time, beeping when the ambient, sublingual temperature was reached. Photo credit-James Gathany, CDC, public domain

Some  people are at risk of developing  severe symptoms and serious complications from respiratory illnesses, so seek medical help sooner, rather than later. These include

  • Infants, especially under one month old
  • Elderly,  now a relative term, advanced age, especially combined with chronic disease
  • Those with chronic lung disease, like asthma, COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis
  • People on drugs that suppress the immune system
  • Other chronic diseases – diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease, cancer 

If you are not sure if you fit into one of these categories, ask your doctor.

Check here for tips on

the difference between a cold (acute rhino-sinusitis) and flu (influenza)

rhinoceros

“Rhino” obviously means NOSE.

What you need to know about influenza. 

Stay home.

This is when you shouldn’t share- germs that is. These illnesses spread person to person, so minimize contact.

Keep your kids home from school and stay home from work, at least the first few days, when you are  the most contagious. When  there is widespread illness in your community, avoid crowds and public gatherings.

Resting, getting extra sleep, drinking fluids and staying warm and dry  make staying at home therapeutic.

Wash hands.

Speaking of person to person contact, the best way to avoid getting or giving germs is to wash your hands often, but especially after being with others ,using a restroom,  and before cooking or eating. Cleaning household surfaces helps too, as well as clothing and linens. Don’t forget to clean your cell phone, tablets, and keyboards too. 

Hand hygiene saves lives.

a common sight now in public restrooms

Use medication wisely.

Some of these illnesses have a specific medication that clear it faster- strep throat, influenza, pneumonia. The others will “run their course” and meds are used to help relieve symptoms.

Many people assume that any illness with fever, sore throat and cough will improve with an antibiotic. The fact is, most will not. Antibiotics only treat infections caused by bacteria, and most of these are caused by viruses. To learn more read about

How to navigate the antibiotic highway 

These illnesses cause the greatest overuse of antibiotics, contribute to the cost of health care, and the development of antibiotic resistance. Please do not insist on an antibiotic if the doctor says you don’t need it; if offered an antibiotic, ask why.

6 smart facts about antibiotic use

Does nasal drainage and congestion need treatment with an antibiotic?

Maybe not. Learn how to sort out sinusitis.

WebMD offers this advice on choosing non-prescription cold remedies

 Be patient

The “24 hour virus” is for the most part a myth. Expect to be ill anywhere from 3 to 10 days; some symptoms, especially cough, can linger for weeks. If you are a smoker, this is a great time to quit. 

But if after 7-10 days you are getting progressively worse, instead of better, something more may be going on, so it’s wise to seek professional medical help.

 

 

I would love for you to share this  information (but not our germs) on your social media pages.

And follow Watercress Words for more information, instruction, and inspiration to help you explore the HEART of HEALTH .

 

My favorite home remedy for a cold is a warm cup of tea,

it always makes me feel better.

White House China teacup

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