This week we are talking about the flu! Flu season is already here so we decided to let you guys know about the Influenza virus what causes it, what symptoms you get, why you should get vaccinated, things to worry about and our personal experiences with the flu. If you haven't listened to the episode yet, stop now and go back to the episode then come join us to read some show notes.
Personally, we used to be against getting the flu vaccine but as a healthcare professional you learn how important it is to protect yourself and those around you from the flu.
What is the flu? Formally it is known as the influenza virus. There are two types that cause the seasonal epidemics and they are known as Influenza A and B. Side note: it can also come from animal strains like we have seen in the past with the avian flu or swine flu (H1N1).
How is it transmitted? Through respiratory droplets (like coughing or sneezing) so it is indeed contagious and affects both adults as well as, children. It has a higher frequency in children largely in part due to their immune systems being weaker compared to us adults.
What are the risk factors? Risk factors include children, elderly, pregnant females, those that are immunosuppressed (like people going through chemotherapy or taking certain medications, HIV or transplant pt’s), people who are obese or diabetic, those with lung disease like asthmatics, or individuals with heart disease or stroke and children with neurologic conditions.
What are the symptoms? People usually experience a high fever, chills, and myalgia's which literally just means muscle aches. This is the typical trio with which a patient presents with. You also can experience headaches, nausea, vomiting, cough or even a sore throat. Sometimes when we examine these patients we can feel swollen lymph nodes.
These symptoms are separated from other upper respiratory infections because these patient’s are less likely to have cough or congestion and more of that trio mentioned above.
How can you spread it to everyone else? If you have the flu you are able to infect someone as early as a day before you have symptoms and up to five or seven days after you become symptomatic.
How do we diagnose it? If you think a patient has a pneumonia we get imaging like a chest x-ray but otherwise the flu is diagnosed based on the history, physical exam and you can also run tests like a rapid antigen detection test or look for the RNA through a PCR test.
How do we treat this condition? It’s usually something we call supportive treatment and this includes, Tylenol, Motrin or a cold compress for headaches or fevers. The most important part of the management is to stay hydrated and alleviate the fever! Please avoid giving aspirin in children as it can cause severe liver disease known as, Reye's syndrome.
Other ailments include giving Tamiflu (also known as Oseltamivir) and this is usually prescribed for those with severe disease or patient’s that are at high risk of severe disease (see the risk factors listed above). What it does is lower the duration of illness by one day and is only effective if you give it within 24-48 hours of illness onset. It may not help in this case for the general population but is still beneficial beyond this time frame for those who have the high risk health conditions. However, you should know this is way too commonly prescribed and probably should not be.
What do we do to prevent us from getting this virus? Well, this should be obvious right? Get vaccinated! The vaccines are available for everyone older than 6 months. This is a vaccine that is given annually in order to account for the random mutations the virus undergoes each year.
The annual vaccine contains multiple killed viral strains that appear during the flu season. This killed vaccine is administered into the muscle. The other vaccine is the live-attenuated one and it is given in certain populations through the nose (intranasal). The live one is approved for people between two and forty nine years old but it is not recommended for people who are pregnant or immunosuppressed.
Why do we want to vaccinate? It can be fatal, especially for those with other conditions because one it can be very severe and two it can impact the other diseases the individual has and causing sudden worsening in the patient's overall health. With that said, the flu virus has been associated with superimposed severe bacterial infections.
When do we vaccinate? You want to vaccinate by end of October but it should be noted that depending where you live the flu season can hit at different times. For example, on the west coast people get it a little later so you can postpone your vaccine till a later time when compared to the general season because the flu vaccine isn’t as effective in terms of protection, months later. Also it takes about two weeks for the antibodies to form after which it starts to have a protective effect hence, why people are starting to give out flu shots now.
1. Getting the vaccine reduces a child’s risk of dying from the flu
2. If you get sick even after vaccination some studies have shown that your illness may be milder
3. Vaccinating the mom during pregnancy can protect the baby after birth from the flu for several months
4. You do not get the flu when getting the vaccine (remember you’re getting a killed virus most of the time)
5. You could still have the flu if there is a variant that was not a part of the seasonal flu vaccine as there are different ones every year however, in general the flu vaccine will protect against the most common strains
1. Get vaccinated
2. Avoid close contact with sick people
3. Limit contact with others when sick. This means that if you feel like you are having the flu. we suggest you stay at home for at least twenty four hours after your fever is gone.
4. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue
5. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water and if not possible then use hand sanitizer
6. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
7. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects
So, in closing go out there and get vaccinated at your local pharmacy, your doctor’s office or even the hospital. It’s quick and easy! Yes, you may have some symptoms and bruising over the site but it is always better to protect yourself first. Remember that you're not only protecting yourself but by vaccinating you are also protecting other people from getting sick.
You can refer to the CDC for more information and they also provide you with surveillance as well as, statistics on a weekly basis regarding the flu season. Visit the CDC website at: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm for more information.
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Disclaimer: The Content on our podcast/website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.