Fighting the Flu

iStock_000013360379XSmallWellness is about so much more than nutrition and exercise. It’s about taking care of yourself by getting enough sleep, monitoring your stress, and being aware of the different diseases that can attack your body. That’s why WellnessFX wants you to be as prepared for this flu season as possible, because it’s a rough one!

Compared to recent years the 2012-2013 influenza season began relatively early. In fact, by January 11, it seemed to be full blown across most of the US.

Scary, huh? It’s even scarier if you aren’t prepared. What is the flu? How do I avoid it? When do I know if I need to go to the doctor? These are the types of questions you should be asking.

What Is The Flu?

According to the CDC, “influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.”

There are three different strains of the flu. Two are caused by type A (H1N1 and H3N2) and the third is caused by type B. The main strain going around now is H3N2. Unfortunately, it is the potentially most harmful strain, shown by the higher mortality and morbidity numbers during the seasons it’s prevalent.

Note: Influenza is NOT the same as the ‘stomach flu.’ The latter is just a nickname given to the disease due to its symptoms.

How Do I Get the Flu?

Influenza is a respiratory disease, meaning it affects the respiratory organs and tissues (such as the nose, throat, and lungs). It has to enter the body through your nose, mouth or eyes. That might seem limiting, but given the frequency with which we touch our faces, the flu can sneak up on us!

The flu is transmitted in small droplets made by people with the virus when they cough, sneeze, or cough. Under the right conditions, these droplets can hang in the air for an unknown period of time. Various studies have been done to see what are the most effective interventions people can take (besides getting vaccinated), such as wearing surgical masks in public. While a lot of the results were unclear, they showed that individuals with sound hand hygiene contract the virus the least.

Here are some tips for avoiding the flu:

  • Special hands – Use one hand as a ‘germ hand’ and the other as a ‘non-germ’ hand. For example, you could use your right hand exclusively for shaking hands, holding on to metro railings, etc, etc, and only scratch your nose or touch your food with your left hand.
  • Hand Hygiene – Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after traversing public transportation or contact with others.
  • Carry hand sanitizer – Normally, the effectiveness of hand sanitizer is a little iffy, but apparently it works well on killing the flu. (Be warned, however, that some risks may be involved with using hand sanitizer. One study showed that the alcohol in hand sanitizers kill only the good bacteria and leave nastier ones (like staph) with more room to grow and flourish! Another recent study found that an ingredient in some may make your heart weaker. Wow! Sounds like it may be best to limit this only to flu season!)
  • No toys – Children’s toys have a lot of flu virus. If you suspect an outbreak in your house, put on disposable gloves before handling the toys and wash them thoroughly.
  • Vaccinations – The best way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated. While vaccination doesn’t promise you won’t get the virus, this year’s vaccine seems to be a particularly good match. It takes about two weeks for the full preventive power to take effect, so don’t delay!

 

Where Can I Get vaccinated?

HealthMap has an easy to use vaccination locator. Click here to check it out!

How Do I Know If I Have The Flu (instead of the cold, for example)?

Compared to the common cold, people with the flu experience more coughing than sneezing. Influenza causes more lower respiratory symptoms than a cold, leading to symptoms such as a sore throat.

Here are common symptoms according to the CDC:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

At what point should I go to the doctor?

Most people will naturally get over the flu between a few days and a couple weeks. Doctors recommend staying in bed, drinking plenty of fluids, and staying clear of other people. The more sleep you can get, the better!

The flu, however, can be severe for children, older people, and those with pre-existing illnesses. In rare cases, the flu can even cause complications in healthy individuals. Here’s a list of warning symptoms to look out for:

  • Difficulty Breathing or Chest Pain
  • Persistent Fever
  • Vomiting or Inability to Keep Fluids Down
  • Painful Swallowing
  • Persistent Coughing
  • Persistent Congestion and Headache

If it sounds like you have any of these, please refer to this WebMD article for more in-depth descriptions of the symptoms. Pregnant women are also at risk after contracting the flu.

More Resources

How Do You Fend Off The Flu – Science Friday Podcast with Dr. Nicole Bouvier, Assistant Professor of Division of Infectious Diseases at Mount Sinai School of Medicine

What You Should Know For The 2012-13 Influenza Season – CDC

The Flu: Caring for Someone Sick at Home – CDC

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center – WebMD

Analysis of alcohol-based hand sanitizer delivery systems: efficacy of foam, gel, and wipes against influenza A (H1N1) virus on hands. – American Journal of Infectious Control

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.