By Dr. Shakir
Ebola, as many are aware, is the world’s recent feared and hyped illness. As dangerous as this viral infection is, many forget to recognize an even more deadly virus floating amongst us: Influenza. This disease is more prevalent and fatal than the dreaded Ebola. Since the Influenza season is upon us, there is no better time to address this topic.
BASICS OF INFLUENZA
INTRODUCTION: Influenza (Commonly Called the Flu) is a highly contagious viral illness that can occur in children and adults of any age. It occurs commonly in winter months, as people tend to spend more time in close contact with one another. The flu is spread easily from person to person by coughing, sneezing or touching surfaces.
Every year, millions are infected all over the world and in the USA alone more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from its complications.
- Fever greater than 100 Degree F, usually for 2-5 days
- Body aches, Headache, Fatigue and weakness
- Cough, runny nose and sore throat
- Diagnoses based on exposure history, clinical exam, nasopharyngeal swab for influenza antigen assay
Treatment is symptomatic and supportive for most patients.
- Plenty of rest and adequate hydration and nutrition
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for fever, headache and muscle aches
- Cough medicines may be used, but not helpful, avoid in children under 6
- Most people recover within 1-2 weeks without treatment and supportive measures
- If antiviral antibiotics (Zanamivir, Oseltamivir) are started early in disease course, it can reduce severity and duration of illness. Not every person with influenza needs these antibiotics; these are reserved for patients with certain risk profile. Your doctor will be able to determine this.
HIGH RISK POPULATION:
Young Children under 5 years (especially under 2y), Elderly (over 65y), pregnant women, and people with other chronic illnesses such as Diabetes, Asthma, COPD, Chronic Heart Disease, Kidney disease, Immunocompromised individuals(Those with HIV, Post-Transplant), Residents of nursing homes, etc. are considered high risk population.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP:
Call your provider or seek care in ER If
- Difficulty in breathing
- Pain or pressure in your chest or stomach
- Signs of dehydration, such as dizziness on standing, not passing urine
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
- In small children, watch for blue or purplish skin color, irritability, fidgeting when held, lack of tears when crying, fever with rash, does not wake up easily
The most effective way to prevent influenza is by vaccination (the flu shot or flu nasal spray) and by using simple infection control measures.
Flu vaccine is recommended for nearly all people six months of age and older. The vaccine is especially important for those in high risk group. Discuss with your doctor in the beginning of flu season, what vaccine suits you best.
INFECTION CONTROL MEASURES:
- Frequent hand washing with soap and water or the use of alcohol based hand sanitizers.
- Cover your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth to prevent transmission
- Avoid close contact with sick people
- When sick, limit contact with others for at least until 24 hours after the fever is gone