Flu: What you Need to Know!
About once each month, our school of pharmacy sends some faculty and students down to our local television station to answer call-in questions on the 9News telephone line. Whatever health professionals think are the important issues, phone-ins provide a finger on the pulse of consumer concerns.
Influenza and the flu vaccine are common health concerns at this time. The influenza seems to be particularly severe this year, either because the flu strain is more dangerous or because the flu vaccine this year is less effective than in most other years.
Influenza is a virus transmitted through the respiratory tract. Following an incubation period of 1-4 days, about half of the patients with flu will develop classic symptoms that include fever, muscle pain, sore throat and headache. These symptoms last 2-5 days, but can be followed by complications, such as pneumonia.
One woman phoned in because she was concerned about having the flu. She cared for her 96-year old mother and recognized that influenza is a major health risk for older patients. She and her mother had some symptoms that they wondered about: was is a cold or the flu. Your primary care provider can test to confirm the flu, but then you might be exposed to the flu from other patients in the office.
Influenza and the common cold share a number of symptoms and it can sometimes be difficult to tell which you have.
Symptoms that are more common with flu include high fever (100-102 °F), headache, fatigue, weakness, general aches and pains. The common cold presents more frequently as stuffy and runny nose, sore throat, and sneezing without fever.
Patients were concerned about staying safe from the flu. Was it safe to go to the grocery store where people with influenza might have handled the vegetables? Liberally hand washing and use of hand sanitizers can help limit your chances of catching a cold or the flu. Some patients will wear masks to prevent transfer of the cold or flu through droplets sneezed into the air by others. It’s still likely to be safe to handle and buy produce, but do wash it off before eating.
BTW, it is still not too late to benefit from a flu shot. While this year’s vaccine is less effective than usual, it is still the best protection from influenza. The vaccine contains inactive virus that stimulates the immune system to recognize and attack the flu virus when you are exposed to it. It take about two weeks to develop full immunity following the vaccine, so the sooner you are vaccinated the more benefit you have from the vaccine. Flu season has not yet peaked and still has several months to go.
There are antiviral medications that can help if you’ve caught the flu, but they need to be taken within a day or two of the appearance of flu symptoms.
Your prescriber or pharmacist can answer your questions about the flu and help you choose appropriate therapy for a cold or the flu. Pharmacists are providing vaccinations in many states. Don’t be a flu statistic. Take good care of yourself.