Ammunition for Flu Season: Get The Facts - The Jewish Voice
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Monday, May 16, 2022

Ammunition for Flu Season: Get The Facts

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Overview

Each year, the flu is responsible for more than 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths. Caused by the influenza virus, the flu spreads easily and attacks the respiratory system. In most cases, the flu is mild; causing a fever, aches and fatigue, but it can also lead to serious complications, including pneumonia and death.

How the Flu Develops

When a person infected with the flu coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the flu virus are released into the air. The flu spreads when a person inhales these droplets. The droplets can also land on surfaces and infect people who touch the surface and then their eyes, nose or mouth. Once inside the body, the flu virus attaches to cells in the airways, sinuses and lungs and replicates, leading to a larger infection.

There are three types of influenza virus – types A, B and C. Type A causes most human cases of the flu, but can also infect animals, including birds and pigs. Some forms, or strains, of type A influenza are common in birds, causing avian flu, or in pigs, causing swine flu. Typically, these strains of influenza do not infect humans, but they can mutate to form a new virus that does infect humans. The immune system does not recognize the new virus and must work to fight it off, initially leading to concerns about how serious the infection may be. Because the flu virus is constantly changing, people can become infected each year.

Symptoms of the Flu

Often, symptoms of the flu are mistaken for those of the common cold. But unlike a cold, the flu typically causes a fever ranging from 101 to 106 degree F, which can last from a day to about a week. The symptoms of the flu are more severe than those of a cold and can include:

Chills and sweats

Headache

Dry or “hacking” cough

Sore throat

Muscle aches and pains

Fatigue and weakness

Loss of appetite

Children with the flu tend to develop higher fevers than adults – often 103 to 105oF – and may also experience nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In adults, however, the flu typically doesn’t affect the gastrointestinal, tract and thus tends not to cause these symptoms. In children, croup and ear infections may also occur.

The flu can cause serious complications, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Some people may experience more severe flu symptoms and should see a doctor immediately. These symptoms include:

Shortness of breath

Frequent vomiting

Confusion

Dizziness

In children under the age of two, if the following symptoms occur, a doctor should be contacted immediately:

Rapid breathing

Unusual eating and drinking

Irritability

High fever or rash

Bluish tint to the skin and lips

Risk Factors for the Flu

Although everyone is at risk for the flu, the following groups have an increased risk and should be especially vigilant during flu season:

Adults over 50 years old

Pregnant women

Anyone with a chronic condition like asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease.

Children six months to 19 years old

People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu

Certain groups of people are more likely to develop complications of having the flu. These include:

Children younger than five years old, especially children younger than two years old

Adults over 65 years old

Pregnant women

People with chronic medical conditions

People who live in nursing or assisted living facilities

People who care for people at a high risk, such as nurses and teachers

Preventing the Flu

Flu season generally runs from November to March, peaking in January and February. The flu spreads easily, but the following steps are effective in preventing the flu:

The Flu Vaccine

The flu vaccine is the first line of defense against the flu and is available as a shot or nasal spray. It is usually available in October or early November and takes six to eight weeks to take effect. A new vaccine is made each year to match that year’s expected flu strains. When the vaccine and virus are well matched, it can reduce infection by 70 to 90 percent in healthy adults, but it is not a guarantee against infection. The vaccine contains inactive flu viruses and stimulates an immune reaction in the body. When a person is then exposed to the flu, his or her body will recognize the infection and immediately begin to fight it.

Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine?

The Center for Disease Control now recommends that everyone over six months of age get vaccinated, unless it is contraindicated (meaning there are medical reasons not to get it). Some individuals should not get the flu vaccine, for example because of egg allergy or previous bad reactions, so it is important to check with a doctor or other appropriate health care professional before getting it.

Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine

The flu shot can cause side effects, including:

Soreness at the injection site

Tiredness

Slight fever and

Sore muscles, runny nose and headache.

For the nasal flu vaccine, in children, side effects can include runny nose, headache, wheezing, vomiting, muscle aches, and fever. In adults, side effects can include runny nose, headache, sore throat, and cough. Fever is not a common side effect in adults receiving the nasal-spray flu vaccine.

Antiviral Medications

Antiviral medication may be prescribed to people who live with, or have contact with, an individual who has the flu. There are four drugs in this class and which one is used depends on several factors, including the virus’ sensitivity to the specific drugs, the age of the patient, and other health conditions that the patient may have. For individuals who have not been vaccinated, a doctor may recommend the flu shot or nasal spray in addition to drug therapy.

Good Hygiene

Practicing good hygiene is an important part of staying healthy during flu season. People should wash their hands often, or use a hand sanitizer, and keep surfaces clean. As viruses can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, people should avoid touching those areas. Other steps include avoiding people with the flu and using a tissue to cough or sneeze and then discarding it immediately.

Treating the Flu

Once infected with the flu, adults are contagious for up to seven days after symptoms begin; children can be infectious for ten to 14 days. It is important to rest at home during this time and drink plenty of fluids.

Although there is no cure for the flu, over-the-counter medications can help to alleviate its symptoms. These medicines include:

Decongestants. These relieve congestion and sinus headaches.

Pain relievers. Pain relievers, including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin, help reduce fevers. Aspirin should never be given to children and teenagers with the flu as it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition.

Antiviral medications. People with severe flu symptoms or those in a high-risk group may be prescribed antiviral medications. The four antiviral flu drugs are:

Oseltamivir, which can be used to treat adults and children older than one

Zanamivir, which can be used to treat adults and children older than seven

Amantadine, which can be used to treat people older than one

Rimantadine, which can be used to treat people older than 13

These medicines work best when they are taken within two days of the first flu symptoms and need to taken for five days. The choice of antiviral drug depends on many factors, including the virus’ sensitivity to the specific drugs, age, and other conditions such as kidney or liver failure.

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