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.
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.
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
emergency warning symptoms that warrant an emergency room visit
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)
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.
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.
a common sight now in public restrooms
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.
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 .
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.