'Tis the Season for Influenza

‘Tis the season
by Dr. Thomas Naro

Influenza, otherwise known as the flu is a virus that affects many of us in New Hampshire. This time of year the prevalence of flu infection cases rise, hence flu season. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) explains on their website the basics on the flu plus more and I’ll give you a synopsis. The virus attacks the respiratory system and can cause mild to severe illness. We all know the signs and symptoms of the flu, right? You could have a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, feel tired, and maybe vomiting and diarrhea. In some people it may only cause respiratory symptoms without a fever.

A person becomes infected through the nose, throat or lungs. It’s believed to spread mainly via droplet form. You know the expression, “say it don’t spray it”? That’s kind of an obnoxious example, but spreading the flu will also happen when a virus carrier coughs or sneezes into the air which contaminates other people through the routes mentioned above. It can also spread by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Here’s a good reason to wash your hands after touching public surfaces like door knobs, grocery cart handles and pay phones (what are those?) Then of course, avoid touching your face unless you know your hands are clean.

Knowing when you or someone else has the flu can be tough at first. Adults may be infected for a whole day before showing any symptoms and 1-4 days for children. That’s enough time to pass the virus on to others before suspecting a person was sick in the first place. Adults can remain contagious for about 5-7 days after you get sick. It can last longer in children and those with weakened immune systems. Everyone is at risk for getting the flu. There are some people who are at greater risk for more severe complications once infected. This includes older people, children, pregnant women, and if you have asthma, diabetes or heart disease.

Once you get the flu, it could make other conditions you have worse or even cause other conditions like bacterial pneumonia, ear infection, sinus infections, swelling of the brain, and dehydration. Who needs that, right? We need a game plan to battle against getting sick in the first place. In the case of the flu, the best defense is a good offense! Let’s take care to keep ourselves safe and the ones around us safe, too.

Get vaccinated. The flu shot is made available at your doctor’s office, medical clinics and some pharmacies. Did you know there are different types of flu shots too? You won’t really be shopping around for the best deal, your doctor will choose for you based on your age and reason for vaccination. There are 3 types of influenza: type A, B, and C. This time of year, we’re talking about seasonal flu shots to protect against two influenza A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2) and an influenza B virus. You might be wondering about the swine flu and bird flu. H1N1 is also known as the swine flu so you get protected from that with a flu shot. The bird flu is not circulating in this country like the others do so vaccination isn’t part of the seasonal recommendation. Remember, the flu shot cannot give you the flu so don’t use that as an excuse to not get it. If you are concerned about the possible side effects, discuss this with your doctor.

If you are around children or work in healthcare, the CDC recommends you always get the flu shot each year. This is the best defense because you are likely to come in contact with other people who may be infected, knowingly or unknowingly. Your chances of getting infected and passing it on to others is reduced with the flu shot. Children 6 months and older are recommended to get the flu vaccine. However, if a child is younger than 6 months, it’s too early to get the flu shot. Children in this age group are at greater risk for more serious complications once infected with the flu so it’s important everyone around that child is vaccinated to prevent passing it on.

Here are some other tips to keep you and the flu from being "besties" this year. Wash your hands frequently. Regular soap is recommended over anti-bacterial soaps per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). You should wash long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Alcohol-based sanitizers work well if you can’t wash with water. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Use a tissue and throw it in the trash immediately. Then go wash your hands again. Avoid people who are sick because they may be infectious. Clean and disinfect surfaces that were touched by others, especially if you know they are sick. Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, and mouth. And if you are sick, avoid other people because even though you are a nice person, you might get them sick accidentally. That’s not nice.

If you do get sick and suspect the flu, consult your doctor. Don’t wait! There are tests to confirm the flu and if you have it sometimes your doctor will prescribe specific anti-viral medications. After that you should rest, consume plenty of fluids (water, soup, sports drinks, etc.), try home remedies or over the counter medication to ease your symptoms and follow the advice from the paragraph above. Continue these precautions for 24 hours after your symptoms clear up. If your child becomes ill with the flu, contact the pediatrician. Please tell others about how to prevent catching and spreading the flu. Remember, you won’t know you have it until it’s too late.

Here’s wishing everyone health and happiness this flu season!

 Dr. Thomas Naro, MSPT, DPT is a doctor of physical therapy and partner/manager of Coppola Physical Therapy Farmington located at 395 NH Route 11.

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