6 things you need to know to fight influenza

a review of how to recognize, prevent, and treat influenza

Thanks for visiting. Please review the updated version of this post .

  1. If you think you have “the flu”, you probably don’t.

To many people “the flu” is any respiratory illness characterized by some combination of fever, cough, congestion, fatigue and aches. That term has become so nonspecific even we doctors use it that way. But it more correctly refers to influenza, which is just 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.

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 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. Besides, we can charge for it and patients have come to expect it now.

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. People refuse vaccination (some even at recommendations of physicians) because they believe it is ineffective, unnecessary, dangerous, toxic, unnatural, subversive, and who knows what else. And  I don’t think I or anyone else am 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.

  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.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wash frequently touched surfaces frequently.
sign saying wash your hands
  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.

There are 4 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

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.

I cringed last year when a friend wrote on her social media page, “My doctor said, ‘No one dies of the flu’.” And, technically, that is true. 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 .

an xray of healthy lungs with no signs of pneumonia.
Healthy lungs with no signs of pneumonia.

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.

Influenza is a disease to take seriously; consider my suggestions, talk to your doctor, and stay healthy this season.

Preventing bacterial infections

 

Prevention is a focus in healthcare now  and immunization has  been one of the most effective ways to prevent disease ever developed.

The list of diseases that are “vaccine preventable” is long and continues to grow.

Go here for the latest recommendations and guidelines on immunization from the  National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)

Vaccine recommendations may be based on a person’s

  •  age,
  • gender,
  • ethnicity and
  • concurrent conditions, especially diabetes mellitus, chronic lung diseases, heart disease and  immune suppressing disorders.

Vaccine administration may vary by

  • the number of doses recommended,
  • how far apart the doses should be given, and
  • which vaccines can be administered at the same time.

Immunization protocols have  become so complex that even physicians have difficulty keeping it straight without the use of paper or digital checklists. This is one area where the Internet and EMRs (electronic medical records) can be useful.

Find out what vaccines your child needs for protection against common  infections. 

 

 

Vaccines for infections caused by bacteria

I use the name of the disease and/or the bacteria, rather than the vaccine name, since there are different brand names for the vaccines depending on the manufacturer.

So successful have these vaccines been that most young doctors have never seen a patient with these diseases (unless perhaps they specialize in infectious disease, immunology, emergency medicine or critical care). And even I, who graduated medical school in 1978, have only seen a few, and none in recent years.

Diphtheria-primarily a respiratory tract illness in young persons

Pertussis, better know as whooping cough, also a respiratory illness, which has made a comeback in recent years, apparently due to a waning of immunity

Tetanus, also called “lockjaw”– due to a toxin which may contaminate a dirty wound

Menigococcal disease, which is one of many causes of meningitis (inflammation of the brain lining), but one of the most deadly, even with treatment

Streptococcal pneumoniae disease; the vaccine is often referred to as the “pneumonia vaccine”, but the bacteria can also cause ear infections, sinusitis, meningitis and sepsis (bloodstream infection)

Haemophilus disease is similar to pneumococcal, but more of a concern in infants and children

 

Preventing viral infections

Virus vs Bacteria One major difference between bacterial and viral infections is the treatment. We have many more effective antibiotics (drugs which fight bacteria) than we do antiviral drugs. And antibiotics do not affect viruses. Despite that fact, patients often expect and even demand their physicians prescribe antibiotics for viral infections such as influenza, colds…

 

exploring the HEART of infection control

 

Dr Aletha

 

 

 

 

 

 

          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: