This time of year it seems like everyone is sick. Colds and stomach bugs and even the FLU. But sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between a cold or the full blown flu especially for those of us with weakened immune systems.Read More
It never fails that as we start to say goodbye to summer and all the fun memories we had, we not only welcome fall, football and changes in leaves. We also welcome allergies, colds and the flu.Read More
** the following is based on my opinion that those who can should get the flu shot! It's just my opinion! I don't know about you but I can't believe that it's already time to start thinking about flu shots and flu season. It seems like it was just here!! Sadly, it was. And it is back again. As much as we don't want to it is indeed time to start thinking about flu season. As well as how we are going to protect ourself and our families and whether we will be getting a flu shot. But really, when does the flu season truly become a worry? When does the actual flu season start in the United States? According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are seasonal influenza (flu) viruses detected all year long. However actual flu cases are most common to be seen during the fall and winter. Clearly no one can predict the exact timing, duration or even the strain of the flu season. That being said they can assume when flu activity will begin and end based on previous years of data. So based on that data, in most years flu activity usually begins sometime in OCTOBER. And will peak between December and February, and crazily enough, activity can be seen as late as May! So basically, you better start planning how you are going to protect you and your family NOW. That being said let's take a little closer look at statistics regarding flu cases and the facts of the flu shot!
The Centers for Disease Control estimates, that during the 2015-2016 flu season, 34 million people were infected with the flu, and as many as 710,000 people were hospitalized and nearly 65,000 died. That also means a lot was spent on visits to primary doctors, Urgent Cares and on Emergency Room visits, as well as on cold medicine, Tamiflu and expenses that many feel could have been avoided. In most cases Flu shots probably would have prevented some of those hospitalizations, deaths and many of other flu sufferers that suffered at home. For others like the immunocompromised, chronically ill ,elderly or those that got a strain that was not prevented by the shot, the shots are not always effective.
Flu vaccines (shots) are usually available year round. But you will begin seeing and hearing more about flu shots at the pharmacy, doctors office, or on TV in late summer/early fall and continuing through winter. The flu vaccine you got last year is not the same as the one that be available this year. Unlike other vaccines the the flu vaccines change yearly, so shots should be done annually for your best protection. Why do they change every year? Basically because the shots are made to prevent those who receive the shot from getting sick from the flu strains in the shot. That being said there are years where their predictions are not right thus making the vaccine less effective. Some years they do a really good in predicting what strains will be seen, thus what strains they should vaccinate against, and other years, not so much. Last year the vaccines were less likely to prevent the flu that was widely seen in the US, mainly because the strains in the vaccines were not the strains of the flu that were being seen in the US last flu season. As some would say they didn't quite hit the nail on the head with that one. But in all honesty the flu vaccine is very safe and is overall the most effective means of preventing or lessening how severe a case of the flu could be if you were to contract it.
Even if you hear about getting the flu shot on the radio it from your doctor in August you don't want to get it that early. When it comes to flu shots "too early" really is a thing, if you get it before the flu season even starts then it will not be effective and won't protect you the entire flu season. Generally speaking you and your doctor can decide when is the best time for you to receive your shot. But the best time to start getting flu vaccines generally speaking is mid-September to early- October. On the flip side it's never to late in the season to get a vaccine. As I said before the flu season usually ends with winter but cases may be seen through May!! So even if you've remained healthy but decide in January or February to get one that is okay. You will be protected the rest of the normal season and through the end of that late season as well!
The flu is highly, HIGHLY contagious!! And very VERY easily spread. Did you know that it can be spread to others who are up to SIX FEET away from an infected person sneezing, coughing or JUST TALKING!!!!! And what's even scarier is that you or anyone can be contagious even before you start to show symptoms.
So what can you do? How can you protect yourself and others from the flu this year?!? Well, it's actually pretty simple really. The big one is that you can wash your hands often! If you think you've washed your hands enough, wash your hands MORE!! You also need to avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, if you do touch those areas.....you got it. Wash your hands! The biggest and most important thing you can do during flu season, really if we are honest anytime of year, stay home if you are feeling sick even if you think it's much a cold. By doing this you are protecting others from the spread of the flu or any other germ or bug you might have. This may not be important for most of the population, but it's VERY important for those who are most susceptible to the flu.
The population that is most at-risk for catching the flu, for complications of the flu and even hospitalizations or death from the flu, are those over 65, the very young (infants under 6months), as well as people like us with little to no functioning immune system. At least the immunocompromised, and the elderly can have the vaccine and have some chance at fighting off Influenza should they catch it. But anyone under 6 months does not have that chance. As infants under 6 months of age cannot be given the vaccine. But you are NEVER to old for a shot. In fact there are actually high dose shots that encourage a better immune response available for those aged 50-65 and an even higher dose available for those over 65.
One thing people don't understand is that the flu for someone who is chronically ill or has a severely compromised immune system can be deadly. A "bug" that might put a "normal" person in bed for three or four days could be potentially deadly for someone like me. I don't say this to be dramatic. I say this to make you think. My immune system is always busy fighting my own body and my lungs especially, so it doesn't pick up these infections like most normal immune systems would. The normal immune system picks up the big as soon as it enters the system. But for someone with an autoimmune disease or on chemo with no working immune system that bug may never be "picked up" by the very weakened immune system until it's way too late. So please, I beg of you, if you have family or friends who fall into the categories I mentioned and you are thinking about skipping the shot, please don't. It's much easier to get the shot than it is to bury your friend or family member.
I know not everyone is able to get the shot, and that's okay. Some people have life-threatening allergies to vaccines or it's ingredients. Others have or will develop a condition called Guillain-Barré syndrome. And newborns under six-months can't get the flu vaccine. These groups of people have to rely on a different kind of immunity. They have to rely on what's called herd immunity. Herd immunity is the idea when most people around them the flu vaccine, it helps to protect the family, or population as a whole.
Honestly, if you've had the real Influenza once you will NEVER forget it! And chances are that those who have had it will take the extra effort to get the vaccine in every year in the future. Because the flu is AWFUL! Symptoms can include, but aren't limited to: sudden onset high fever, severe body aches, on top of all the symptoms associated with a cold. You may not be worried about getting the shot for yourself. But think about getting one for those around you.
I feel like we've covered enough of the the basics to get you through the first part of the flu season. It's awful, you don't want it. And you just need to wash your hands all....the....time!!!! In all honesty, what you need to know is that the flu ends you YOU (U). What I mean by saying that is there are two simple and easy ways to prevent influenza and the spread of the disease is to get your yearly flu shot, and KEEP YOUR BUTT HOME WHEN YOU ARE SICK during flu season. In all honesty flu shots aren't for everyone. But if you take nothing away from everything else I have written take away this. If you live with or come in close contact with someone who is immunocompromised, is chronically ill, is elderly, or has a new born baby at home GET THE SHOT! In those cases it's not for you it's for them. A case of the flu might put you in bed for three days. But for a person in any one in the groups I just mentioned could die from the flu! So just think before you decide not to get the shot!
Let's talk about the topic that seems to be on everyone's mind. Colds and the flu. Not the stomach bug you might pick up, but the big bad bug. INFLUENZA!! This is a dangerous bug for those of us who are immune-suppressed/immunocompromised. Where a normal person might only be down for a few days, those of us who have Auto-Immune diseases could be down for weeks. Or even end up hospitalized and critically ill. So it's nothing to mess around with. Let's look at the differences between a cold and the flu, the treatment!! So it is cold and flu season so sometimes it is hard to know if you just have a cold or the flu. The flu is worse then any cold virus. And the symptoms are different. Let's look at the symptoms.
1. Fever/Chills- The majority of influenza cases start with a fever that can last between 4-5 days!! Cold viruses may cause a low grade temp, while influenza causes high temps of 102 and higher. The higher the fever the more likely you are to have the chills. And they are more likely to be seen in cases of the flu, rather than a cold.
2. Muscle Aches- One if the biggest reasons you feel so awful when you have the flu is the muscle aches!! Any slight movement can make you hurt everywhere!!! You would most likely notice the aches in the chest, back and legs. Muscle aches are seen with the flu and are not common with the common cold.
3. Fatigue- The fatigue from the flu is not like the everyday fatigue from everyday life. It is an intense feeling of exhaustion and weakness! This fatigue may last several weeks before you return back to your normal health! The weakness and exhaustion can last up to 3 weeks or longer in the elderly or those with chronic illnesses or weak immune systems. With a common cold the fatigue and exhaustion takes much less time to resolve, usually only 2-3 days.
4. Cough- The cold and flu are a respiratory disease which means they attack the lungs! Therefore, with patients with the flu and cold a cough is common. However, with the flu the cough usually begins with a sore throat which then develops into a persistent dry cough that usually happens in two to three days. Pneumonia is a common complication of the flu especially with those who have weakened immune symptoms. If you continue to cough and start coughing up yellow or green mucous along with chest pain make sure to call your doctor!!
5. Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing- This is one of the most common symptoms of the flu because of the congestion and persistent cough! The flu can also cause chest pain because of the shortness of breath. The chest tightness is caused by restricted nasal passages. If you have any kind of lung disease this may be worse for you!! Shortness of breath is not a common symptom of the common cold.
6. Sneezing - The cold and flu is easily spread by sneezing or coughing. In order to prevent the spread of either, please make sure you are covering you cough and you are sneezing into a tissue. However, keep in mind that those droplets from your sneeze will remain on your fingers. So be use your wash you hands good or using a good alcohol based sanitizer.
7. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea- These are common symptoms with the flu! If you have persistent vomiting or diarrhea make sure that you are drinking as much as you can to keep yourself hydrated or call your doctor for IV fluids!! This is not typically seen in a simple cold!
8. Headache - While a headache is not a reliable indicator that you actually have the flu, it is a common symptom. A headache caused by a cold is much less severe than those caused by the flu. The flu typically causes inflammation of the mucous membranes and the sinus cavities, which in turn causes pressure around your eyes and face, causing a severe headache.
9. Stuffy Nose - If you have a stuffy nose with no body aches or fever, and some minor fatigue, most likely it is just a cold. Both the flu and cold can lead to a sinus infection that can be felt as a deep and constant pain in the face, the head and your nose. If you feel like you have developed a sinus infection contact your doctor.
10. Ear Ache - An earache causes by the flu can range from a dull ache to extreme burning. And the severity can range in severity from mild to moderate. Both the flu and colds can irritate the Eustachian tube, that connects the throat to the middle ear, and can cause full pain in the ears. The pain should go away on its own as the flu or cold gets better!
So how do you treat a cold or the flu?!? For a cold it's all about symptom management. So over the counter meds for fever, sinus congestion etc. For the flu you should see your dr. If they test you and you have the flu they may prescribe an anti-viral medication. The anti-viral meds can only be given with the first two to three days after symptoms develop. You can also treat the flu like the cold, with symptom management. Decongestants, fever reducing meds, etc. And if you feel like you are developing pneumonia or other complications from the flu you will need to call your dr for an exam to determine further treatment.
The big thing to remember is to STAY HOME if you think you have the flu!! And if you have to go out wear a mask! The flu is very easily spread through droplets and contact with those droplets. You don't want to be spreading the flu everywhere you go!!
Yes, it may be fall and almost the holiday season. But with those wonderful things also come the bad! Bad for immunocompromised individuals that is. What am I talking about you might ask?!? Cold and Flu season!! For those of us with little to no immune system this can be the worst time of year. As all the germs running rampant make it hard for us to leave the house!! But there are steps we can take to try to prevent getting sick. They may not all be pleasant but if it keeps me out of the hospital I'll do just about anything. 1. GET A FLU SHOT - The first thing we need to do to prevent the Flu is to get the Flu shot. Now I know not all of us can take the flu shot due to allergies or sensitivities, but those who can should. Some say that the flu shot makes them sick and while that may be true in a few cases, it will not give you the flu. We should also encourage those who we are in close contact with to also get the flu shot. If those we live with and work with don't get the shot we can still be at risk for getting the Flu.
2. WASH YOUR HANDS- The next best thing we can do to prevent the nasty cold and flu bugs from getting us down is to wash your hands. Wash, wash, wash!!! When should we wash you ask? Well, we should wash our hands after using the bathroom, especially public bathrooms! (Also while I'm on the topic of public bathrooms, you should do your best not to touch the sink knobs or door handle after washing and should use a paper towel to do so!) We should also wash after sneezing or coughing on our hands. As well as after contact with surfaces that others may touch like door knobs, shopping carts etc. If you are unable to use good ole soap and water, use an alcohol based hand sanitizer until you can get to a sink.
3. AVOID CROWDED PUBLIC PLACES- We can also try to avoid going out into public at the peak times. The more people confined into a small space the more likely you will be to get sick. So try to go out first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening!
4. AVOID SICK CONTACTS- We should ask that our friends and family stay away when they are ill. If they know they are sick they should limit contact with those who are immunocompromised! And if they have to be near it is okay to ask them to wear a mask.
5. WEAR A MASK - We can also wear a mask when we go in public. It may not be pleasant or comfortable but it's another way that we can prevent illness and hospitalization!
Prevention is important for those with low immune systems as well as those who don't! When it comes down to it sometimes there is no way to prevent illness this time of year. But these five basic tips are quick and easy ways that we can implement to try to prevent contracting an illness. We have to do all that we can to prevent illness because no one else is going to do it for us!! We have to take prevention into our own hands and do all we can to keep ourselves healthy. We all need to do our part to stay healthy!