October 30, 2013
Although the weather is still warm, flu season is approaching quickly. The flu is responsible for 20,000 deaths a year. The majority of deaths occur in the elderly or in people with lung disease, but the flu can lead to death even in young, healthy people. There is a higher attack rate of the flu in children. Outbreaks of the flu are common during the winter months with highest rates in January and February. Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, body aches, nausea, decreased appetite, cough, and congestion. Severe cases may also include weakness and confusion. The flu may also trigger severe asthma attacks in people with asthma and may lead to pneumonia as well.
There is no cure for the flu, but there are antiviral medications that can significantly decrease the duration of the flu if the medicine is started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Treatment also consists of getting plenty of fluids and rest and controlling symptoms with medications such as Tylenol and Advil. Without antiviral medications, the flu can last up to 10-14 days, so it is responsible for many missed days of work and school each year. The best way to avoid getting the flu is by getting an annual flu shot. The best time to get a flu shot is in mid-fall. Anyone above the age of 6 months who wishes to avoid the flu is encouraged to get a flu shot, but it is even more important to get one if you have a chronic medical condition. All adults above the age of 50 and pregnant females are also considered to be at high risk for complications from the flu and should get a flu shot.
One thing I hear frequently every year is, “The one time I got the flu shot it gave me the flu.” The flu shot cannot give you the flu. Flu shots are typically given at a time of year when multiple respiratory viruses are circulating, so any association of getting sick with getting the flu shot is likely coincidental. While it is true that flu shots don’t prevent the flu 100% of the time, it does significantly reduce the likelihood of getting the flu, and it might actually save your life.