This year’s strains of influenza are particularly virulent, and unfortunately the vaccine developed this year does not provide protection against all of the strains. The flu is a nasty virus that causes 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year in the United States. The largest and deadliest flu outbreak was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 that caused 20 to 40 million deaths. Now we are lucky to have a healthcare system that prevents most deaths, and vaccines that provide protection against most strains of the flu.
1. Symptoms: Many people confuse the symptoms of flu with the cold, but the flu has definite symptoms, such as:
- A fever of 100 degrees or higher (but not everyone gets a fever)
- A cough and/or sore throat
- A runny or stuffy throat
- Headache and/or body aches
- Fatigue or feeling tired
- Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach), vomiting, and/or diarrhea
2. People who are at risk for severe complications:
- Children younger than 5, especially those younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 years and older
- People who have medical conditions including liver disease (such as hepatitis B and C)
- The best prevention is the flu vaccination. It is safe and is usually effective; but this year’s flu has mutated so the vaccine is not protective against this year’s most virulent flu strain. Even so, it is protective against 50% of the strains infecting people this year.
- Basic hand washing can help to protect people from the cold, flu and other infections—wash the hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
- Watch what you touch, especially other people’s items—phones, iPads, remote controls, etc.
4. The Flu:
- If you get the flu, the best advice is to get bed rest, and monitor your temperature and drink lots of fluids.
- There are many over-the-counter medicines that can help lessen some of the symptoms
- Your medical provider can prescribe antiviral medications to reduce the symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu
- Seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Purple or blue discoloration of the lips
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
5. The Bottom Line:
- There is still time to get the flu vaccine, but if you don’t get vaccinated, be prepared to take precautions to protect yourself against getting the flu.