The Flu Blues
Dessina King, LPN and Karla Robinson, MD
Yes ‘tis the season to be sneezing. Flu season is upon us once again, and with with the H1N1 epidemic in recent years, people are more concerned than ever. The African American community is at particularly high risk for complications from a flu epidemic. Therefore, it is necessary that we all understand the flu virus, its effects, and how you can decrease your risk of serious illness in order to lessen the devastating impact that influenza has in our community.
What can we do?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone be vaccinated for influenza, starting as young as 6 months old. For people who are prone to infection particularly school-aged children, pregnant women, the elderly, those whose immune systems are suppressed due to chronic illness (i.e. asthma, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and patients undergoing chemo-therapy), it is highly recommended you are vaccinated. This group is susceptible to complications associated with the flu, which can be life-threatening.
The flu vaccine comes in two forms.
- The traditional “flu shot” which is the safe to use in all patients 6 months and older, is made with an inactivated virus. This injection is also safe to use in pregnancy. For adults, only one is needed per season, but for children aged 6 months-8 years two doses are needed unless two doses were received last year, or if one was received last year, and at least one the year prior to that. If two doses are needed, they should be four weeks apart.
- The nasal spray, Flumist is approved for those patients aged 2 years-49 years old. It is made with a live flu virus that has been weakened enough to allow for vaccination, but not actual flu infection. This form is not safe to use in pregnancy. It is also not recommended for those with respiratory problems.
Side effects of the flu shot are generally minimal if present. The most common include redness or swelling at the injection site, low grade fever, and muscle aches. Additionally, there may be headache, runny nose, and other mild respiratory symptoms with the nasal spray.
It is important to note that those with an allergy to eggs, a prior reaction to the flu vaccine, history of Guillan-Barre, or a current illness with fever should not receive the flu vaccine.
When given, the vaccine is to protect you throughout the “flu-season” which is typically November-April. It is designed to protect against the three flu viruses predicted to be the most common in 2012-2013. No vaccine is 100% in it‘s protection from illness. However, if you have been vaccinated and you do happen to contract the flu, it is more likely to be less severe than if you had not received the vaccine.
There is a two-week delay until full effectiveness of the vaccine. It is possible to get the flu after you have received the vaccine if you happen to be exposed to the virus during that window.
We all know the #1 way to prevent the spread of disease is by hand washing. This is the most effective way to prevent the transmission from one person to another simply by using three components -water, soap, and friction.
In order to sufficiently remove germs through hand washing, it must be done correctly. Otherwise, you’ve simply just given the germs on your hands a bath, while they are still thriving and ready to infect someone else.
Let’s review the proper hand washing technique:
Wet your hands, lather up with soap, and rub hands together being careful to clean under nails, in between fingers, and scrubbing palms for as long as it takes you to sing the “ Happy Birthday” song and rinse. Be careful not to reach and turn off the faucet with your shiny, clean hands. Use a disposable paper towel to do that after you dry your hands.
Coughing and sneezing should be done in tissues or in the bend of your arm to prevent sending a spray of germs into the atmosphere. It is also recommended that you wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose to prevent the spread of infection.
What happens when despite your efforts you get sick?
The symptoms may include fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue, nausea, vomiting. While there is no cure for the flu, there are treatments for the symptoms. It is recommended that you call your primary care physician and discuss your treatment options. In the early stages, an antiviral can be prescribed to lessen symptoms. Over-the-counter medicines can be used, but with caution especially for those with hypertension and diabetes as some preparations could adversely affect you. Please use these as directed, the directions are there for your safety and to get the maximum benefit from their use.
During this time you should be seeking rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Both of these are important in the healing process. While rest gives the body time to regenerate and heal, fluid intake helps to prevent dehydration which can happen quickly.
If you don’t see symptoms subsiding within 5-7 days or they are getting worse, please see your doctor immediately. We are especially careful with children and the elderly, as this population is the most likely to develop complications.
Just remember to cover your cough and wash your hands.
Let’s stay healthy, spread love and not your germs.