Influenza or the flu season (as it's more commonly known) is officially underway
The season typically begins in October and can last as long as April, peaking in January or February.
According to government health officials, there is good news for those of you who received the flu vaccine this year – reports show that it is fairly compatible with the current flu strains that we are seeing. The bad news is that for the 5-20 percent of the population that gets the flu, tamiflu – a common drug used to lessen flu symptoms – is not effective against this year's strain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that on an annual basis, 200,000 people are hospitalized and 36,000 people die as a result of the flu or complications from the virus.
The flu can cause fever, body aches, headache, dry cough, sore or dry throat, tiredness and loss of appetite. Symptoms usually begin at 1 to 4 days after being exposed. The symptoms are usually worse during the first 3-4 days and take about 1-2 weeks to disappear. Most people get better without any problems, but sometimes the flu can lead to bacterial infections like ear infections, sinusitis or bronchitis. In severe cases, the flu can cause more serious illnesses, like pneumonia.A common misconception is mistaking a cold for the flu or vice versa. Both can cause sore throat, runny nose or sneezing, headache, low-grade fever, muscle aches and malaise. The cold usually does not cause high fever (temperature greater than 101 degrees), while the flu can. A stuffy nose is usually a sign of a cold. Cold symptoms are milder and do not last as long as flu symptoms do. Colds can occur throughout the year whereas influenza is usually seen from October to April with its peak in late January and early February.
Whether you have the flu or a cold, be sure to get plenty of rest, drink fluids, and see your doctor as needed.
Preventing the flu
You can help protect yourself against the flu virus by receiving the flu vaccine annually. Since the strain of the virus varies from year to year, it is imperative to be vaccinated on an annual basis. The earlier you're inoculated in the flu season, the greater your chances are of protection against the virus. And of course, hand washing is an ideal way to prevent the spread of germs. Soap and water are always best, however an alcohol-based sanitizer such as Purell works well if soap and water are unavailable. Be sure to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough, throw away the used tissues (do not re-use the tissue) and wash your hands. Avoid contact with sick people. Be sure to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and take a multivitamin. Listen to your body and rest as needed and keep your stress in check!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the flu shot for all children 6 months and older up to the age of 19 (in fact, in the state of New Jersey all pre-schoolers are required to have a flu vaccination – the only exceptions are for religious beliefs or medical reasons); pregnant women; adults 50 and older; any person with a chronic medical condition; nursing home residents; anyone taking care of people who are at risk of severe complications from the flu, such as health care workers, and people taking care of children 6 months and older.
People who should not get the flu vaccine include children under 6 months of age, people with an egg allergy (since the vaccination contains egg); and anyone who developed Guillian-Barre syndrome within six weeks of getting the flu vaccine. Be sure to discuss your situation with your physician directly.Contact your health care provider early in September if you would like to be vaccinated (either for yourself or your child). There are two forms of vaccination for the flu virus: one is an actual injection of an inactive virus, usually in your arm; the other is a flu mist which is a mild form of a live virus, administered intra-nasally. Not everyone is a candidate for the flu mist. Those patients under age 2, pregnant women, individuals on aspirin therapy, and those with asthma or active wheezing are not candidates for the flu mist, but may receive the flu vaccination.
If you have not received the flu shot or flu mist, it is still not too late. Getting the vaccine later is better than not getting it at all. Listen to your body, be sure to wash your hands, and communicate with your health care provider.