Tired? Sore Throat? Runny nose? Achy? Feverish? Coughing? It could be the flu.
ABOUT THIS YEAR’S FLU
A BAD FLU YEAR
This year’s dominant flu strain—H3N2—is especially dangerous for three reasons:
1. People have had less exposure to it, so there has been less opportunity to build immunity.
2. H3N2 is historically associated with serious complications.
3. While this year’s vaccine was being incubated, the flu virus mutated, making the vaccine less effective. Scientists expect this year’s vaccine to be about 30% effective in warding off the flu. (Normally the flu vaccine is 60% effective.)
SHOULD YOU GET THE FLU VACCINE?
Absolutely. It’s certainly worth reducing your chances, even by only 30%. Furthermore, if you do catch the flu, you may get a less severe form of it.
IF YOU GET SICK
Average cases: Stay home and avoid contact with other people. Drink plenty of liquids. Rest. The flu should last from several days to less than two weeks. To lower your fever and relieve aches, take over-the-counter remedies such as: acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
Severe or high-risk cases: Contact your doctor right away. In addition to other treatment protocols, she may prescribe oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza)—antiviral drugs used to treat flu symptoms, prevent complications, and shorten recovery time. (Note: To be effective these drugs should be given within the first two days of illness.)
PEOPLE AT HIGH RISK FOR COMPLICATIONS
• Children under 5, especially those younger than 2 years old
• Adults 65 years old and older
• Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
• American Indians and Alaska Natives
• Individuals with chronic medical conditions, including: asthma, heart problems, neurological disorders, chronic lung disease, diabetes, kidney disorders, liver disorders, HIV, AIDS, cancer, obesity (body mass index of 40 or more)
According to the Mayo Clinic, pneumonia is the most serious flu complication; it can be deadly for older adults and people with a chronic illness. Other complications include: bronchitis, asthma flare-ups, heart problems, and ear infections.
WHEN TO SEEK EMERGENCY MEDICAL ATTENTION
• With difficulty breathing
• With bluish skin color
• Not drinking enough fluids
• Not waking up or interacting
• Who are extremely irritable
• Whose flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever and a worse cough
• With fever accompanied by rash
• With difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
• With pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
• Who experience sudden dizziness
• With severe or persistent vomiting
5 COMMON QUESTIONS
1. Can a flu shot give you the flu?
Answer: No, it can’t. But there can be side effects, such as soreness where the shot was given, low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches. Side effects can last one to two days.
2. Which are the best flu vaccines for this year’s flu season?
Answer: For the 2017-2018 flu season, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends flu shots with either the inactivated vaccine (IIV) or the recombinant vaccine (RIV). The nasal spray option isn’t suitable for this year’s flu.
3. Who should get a flu shot?
Answer: Everyone over 6 months old should get a flu shot every year.
4. If it’s the same flu as last year, why would I need another shot?
Answer: Over a year’s time immunity from the flu vaccine declines and has to be renewed.
5. Is it better to get the flu than the flu vaccine?
Answer: No. Flu can be a serious disease, especially among young children, older adults, and people with chronic ailments, such as asthma, heart disease, or diabetes. Complications can include hospitalization and may even result in death.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
• cdc.gov - What to do if you get the flu
• cdc.gov - Common misconceptions
• nytimes.com - About this intense flu season
• cdc.gov - Flu vaccines
• cdc.gov - Flu complications
• health.harvard.edu - General info
• mayoclinic.org - Complications