The Flu Hits Hard This Season, Take Preventative Measures

Influenza, or the flu, is a serious illness that can land you in the hospital – and also kill you.  In Ventura County, at least 16 people have died in flu-related cases as of Jan. 11 this flu season, which typically runs from October through March.  Health officials say that one strain, Influenza A H3N2, is making the flu season more severe this year.

Some people are especially vulnerable, including those with serious medical conditions, people with compromised immune systems, very young children, and those 65 and older.  This year however, the flu is also hitting younger people more than usual.  One theory is that older people probably had a viral illness at some point previously that is similar to H3N2 and they have partial immunity, while young people were not exposed previously and do not have immunities.

5 Major Symptoms

“Everyone should be aware of the five major symptoms of influenza,” says Dr. Stan Frochtzwajg, Community Memorial Health System’s Chief Medical Officer.  “They are fever, headaches, cough, sore throat and muscle aches.  This is when physicians render the diagnosis of the flu.”

Without three or more of those symptoms, it’s hard to diagnose the flu.  Having at least three and a physical examination corroborating the history can lead to a “presumptive” diagnosis, but if you see your doctor, they can also take a nasal swab for a definitive diagnosis.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is advising doctors to treat flu patients with a presumptive diagnosis so that treatment can start right away.

Vaccination and practicing good health and hygiene habits can go a long way to preventing you from getting the flu, says Dr. Frochtzwajg.

5 Prevention Tips

  1. Avoid close contact with other people who are sick.  Stay home from work and don’t send sick kids to school.  Don’t even run errands!
  2. Cover your mouth and nose with tissue when coughing or sneezing to help prevent the spread of germs.
  3. Keep clean!  Washing your hands often helps protect you from germs.  Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.  Also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth and spreading germs.
  4. Help improve your immune system by getting plenty of sleep, eating a balanced diet, staying well hydrated, and avoiding fatigue and stress!
  5. Get vaccinated!  Vaccinations can be effective through February.  Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after you have been vaccinated.  These antibodies protect you against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.  Even though the vaccine this year is less effective on the flu strain that is going around, it can help lower the seriousness or intensity of your illness if you get the flu.  Some protection is better than no protection at all!

When You Have The Flu

If you do get sick, you can see your doctor, but health officials would like people to avoid a trip to the hospital emergency room unless symptoms are severe or you are in an at-risk group.  ER physicians can’t really do much more than your own primary care doctor (of course there are some exceptions).  If you are in doubt, please call your doctor, advises Dr. Frochtzwajg.

Over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can ease the fever and muscle aches.  Antiviral drugs can help, too.  Antivirals are prescription medicines that are not available over-the-counter.  They can make a case of the flu milder and shorten the time you are sick, and may also prevent serious flu complications.  It’s recommended that antiviral medications be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms to be most effective.  Again, talk to your physician.

Finally, Dr. Frochtzwajg emphasizes that a healthy lifestyle helps people avoid the flu and heal faster if they do get sick.  It’s never too late to eat healthier, get more sleep and exercise, and take steps to lower stress levels.  Your body will thank you all year round!