When I was in nursing school in the mid eighties, I had not yet attained influenza vaccination enlightenment, and in the middle of that winter season, I got the flu. What ensued was a week of being bedridden. I was unable to eat, drink or move. I was helpless. I had a high fever, body aches and the whole week was a complete blur, except for the one thing I remember very clearly. I was so sick, I came very close to asking my roommate to give me a Tylenol suppository. I was too embarrassed, so I suffered through it. I will never forget it. I will never forget that feeling.
I cringe when people say they have gotten the flu before and it was no big deal. Most people don’t understand the difference between the flu and a cold. If they actually had the flu, they would know, because the symptoms of the flu are much more severe than a cold.
What is infuenza?
Influenza or the “flu” for short, is a virus that circulates during cold winter months. Symptoms include: fever, body and headaches, fatigue, weakness, sore throat, runny nose and cough. If you have a cold, you rarely have a fever and symptoms are usually localized to your head and nose. If the flu is not treated properly, many people have such weakened immune systems, that they get secondary complications like pneumonia and this can unfortunately lead to further illness and even death.
What is dangerous about the flu is that each year there are approximately 200,000 hospitalizations due to the flu and its complications and 36,000 deaths. I know that many of us are concerned with the new Ebola threat, but the flu is much more of a threat.
Certain individuals are more at risk for getting the flu and flu related complications and they include; adults over the age of 65, children and infants, pregnant women, people with disabilities, those with health conditions; such as asthma and diabetes, and people traveling abroad.
So what is the best way of avoiding the flu?
Get vaccinated, but you must do it every year. This year you have two options, a high dose flu vaccine that is specifically designed for adults over 65 or the regular flu vaccine. They both have the same three flu viruses in them.
The next best way to avoid the flu is to wash your hands well. You can use soap and water or alcohol hand sanitizer. You should also stay away from sick people. If you are sick, cover your mouth with your arm when you cough, not your hand, and encourage others to do the same. Don’t reuse tissues. Throw them away after each use and wash your hands afterwards. Using handkerchiefs is not a good idea because you transfer the bacteria and viruses onto your hands each time you use them.
What to do if you get the flu?
Sometimes it is difficult to know if you have the flu. Contact your doctor. If you get tested within the first two days of coming down with symptoms and find out that you indeed have the flu, your doctor might prescribe an antiviral medication. This will lessen the symptoms of the flu. Other treatments include resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and using over-the-counter anti-pyretics such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lessen the fever, aches and pains.
Now that you are enlightened about the flu, you can enlighten others. Tell your friends and family to get vaccinated. If we all get vaccinated we create herd immunity and therefor significantly decrease flu transmission. So go ahead, get vaccinated, practice good hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette by coughing into your sleeve, not your hand. And spread the word, not germs—we’ll all be healthier for it.