As we are in the midst of flu season, what do we all need to know to protect ourselves and our loved ones from this airborne illness?
A few sniffles and a sore throat, and you know you’re in for it all week. But does that sense of impending doom mean the onset of a common cold, or worse yet … the infamous influenza? Dr. Cyrus Javan, an infectious disease specialist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, says that “patients often confuse the flu with other more common viral upper respiratory illnesses, but the flu is usually more severe and debilitating.”
Unlike the common cold, an influenza infection usually results in fevers, severe body aches, fatigue, dry cough and severe headache. And while these symptoms may be seen with other illnesses, the flu usually has a faster onset; with symptoms progressing in hours instead of days.
Alarmingly, the flu may actually be deadly, particularly in the elderly or people with certain chronic illnesses. Last month, the California Department of Public Health announced that there have already been 202 influenza-related deaths this season in patients under the age of 65. This is more than 11 times as many influenza-related deaths as was reported at the same time last year.
So what can we do to prevent the spread of influenza? First, talk to your healthcare provider about getting vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the flu vaccine. Particularly high risk populations include children between the age of 6 months and 4 years, adults over 50 years of age, and patients with various chronic illnesses including diabetes mellitus. If you have a severe egg allergy, had a previous allergic reaction to the flu vaccine, or are currently ill, you may not be eligible to receive the vaccine.
Oh no — now you’ve caught the flu! If you think you’ve come down with the flu, you should go to your healthcare provider as soon as possible to see if you should get tested for influenza and get treated with antiviral medication. It’s important to know that antiviral treatment only works if it’s given early in the disease course, particularly the first 48 hours of symptom onset. Antivirals can reduce symptoms by 1-1.5 days.
Dr. Javan says that “rest and hydration, as well as anti-viral treatment, are the key to a speedy recovery.” Finally, if you or someone you know is afflicted with the flu, proper and frequent hand washing is a key part of stopping its spread. While, there are treatments available, Dr. Javan emphasized, “vaccination and prevention are the key.”
So, stay healthy this flu season, Santa Monicans, and talk to your healthcare provider about getting the flu shot.
Sion Roy MD and Kathleen Ruchalski MD are a husband and wife physician duo that lives in Santa Monica. Dr. Roy is a cardiology fellow and Dr. Ruchalski is a radiology fellow at UCLA. Please e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org with comments and questions. The opinions in this column are not intended as individual medical advice, treatment or diagnosis, as only your doctor knows you well enough to do that.