By: Sam Ashoo, MD
Fall is in the air, and with the expected cooler temperatures comes the expectation of another flu season. As with most illnesses, prevention remains the best treatment.
Severe cases of influenza have been known to cause complications like pneumonia, especially in patients who already have lung diseases or chronic medical problems. However, even if the case is not severe, anyone with the flu should expect to be sick for 10 to 14 days with fever, cough, nasal congestion, and muscle aches being the most common symptoms. Although the majority of cases resolve without treatment, prevention is easy and effective with one flu shot.
The flu vaccine is made to protect against the strains of influenza expected to cause illnesses during the season. Although there is some variation from year-to- year, the major strains are similar. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age or older receive the vaccine. Getting vaccinated early greatly reduces your chances of catching the flu and helps lessen the severity of the illness if you do happen to get sick. Flu vaccines are offered in many locations including doctor’s offices, walk-in clinics, health departments, pharmacies, and student health centers on campus.
In addition to getting vaccinated, practicing good hygiene is important in stopping the spread of the virus. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water and avoid touching your face. Use an alcohol based hand sanitizer if soap and water is not available. Always cough or sneeze into your elbow to reduce the spread of germs and to keep them away from your hands. If you are in a public area that offers cart disinfectant wipes, use them to wipe down the areas where you or your child would normally pace your hands. Similarly, cleaning doorknobs, keyboards and phones in your office can reduce transmission if someone in the office is ill.
If you do catch the flu, stay home. Rest and hydration with water, along with over the counter fever reducers, should be all that is required. Staying home also prevents you from spreading the illness to others like your friends and co-workers. If you suddenly get worse halfway into your illness, seek medical attention.
In some cases, antiviral drugs may be prescribed to combat the flu infection. Antivirals can make the illness milder and may shorten the length of the infection if started within the first 48 hours. Ultimately, your best defense remains prevention!