By eMedical Offices
Your daughter came home from college and brought a stuffy nose. Your son came home from a play date and is complaining of a sore throat. Want to start placing bets when you’ll come down with a full blown cold?
As colder weather approaches and more people stay indoors — and in close proximity to each other — our offices begin to see more patients with upper respiratory infections or colds. As doctors, we begin to see cases develop in October and peak during January and February, then begin to taper off in March.
Getting the “flu” is different from the common cold because it’s caused by the influenza virus and can potentially be much more severe than the common cold. In the most susceptible patients, such as the elderly, or those with underlying medical conditions, severe flu illness can be potentially life threatening.
Spreading the Virus
The flu virus usually is contagious one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after symptoms develop. The virus is spread primarily by “droplet” contamination, meaning when an infected person talks, sneezes or coughs, droplets containing the virus can spread to others, up to 6 feet away. A bit gross to think about, but the droplets can land in the mouths and noses of others, and can be inhaled into the lungs. This is why it’s important to cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and wash your hands afterwards.
The next most common method of infection is from touching a surface that has the flu virus, such as a door knob, and then touching your mouth or nose. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water or using alcohol-based waterless hand cleansers are the best ways to prevent this transmission. Any items used by infected individuals, such as dishes, silverware, linens and towels, shouldn’t be shared and should be washed thoroughly before reusing.
The most important piece of advice I give regarding preventing the flu is to get vaccinated. Vaccination not only helps prevent the vaccine recipient from illness but also helps prevent the spread of the flu throughout the community.
The flu vaccine must be given annually. It contains the 3 most common strains of the influenza virus for the upcoming flu season based on sophisticated computer models that predict which virus will be most likely to be circulating in a particular year. The flu vaccine is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for everyone over the age of 6 months. Another option is the flu vaccine in a nasal spray form, which can be given to anyone who is healthy, not pregnant and between the ages of 2 to 49.
Symptoms of the Flu
Generally, the common cold and the flu can have similar respiratory infection symptoms. The flu tends to be more severe and includes:
- High fever (although the flu can occur without a fever)
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or congested nose
- Body aches
- Muscle aches
Occasionally patients can develop nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Your fever may last 3 to 5 days, and the cough and exhaustion can last up to 2 weeks. The symptoms generally start abruptly.
But Do I Really Have the Flu?
Your doctor will determine if you have the flu based on your symptoms and his clinical assessment of your physical condition. The most common testing used is the rapid flu test, when a swab is taken from the nose or throat and analyzed. This test can detect the flu usually within a few minutes. Unfortunately this test is not foolproof, meaning you can have a negative test and still have the flu.
Generally if your doctor suspects the flu based on symptoms, patient risk factors and the pattern of flu infections in the community, he or she will begin treating the virus even if the rapid flu test is not performed.
- You can treat flu symptoms with and without medication
- Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications to help alleviate your symptoms
- Antibiotics are necessary if your illness has developed into a bacterial infection
The virus that causes the flu and its symptoms are usually more severe than the common cold, and can be dangerous for high-risk patients with underlying medical problems. The flu virus is contagious, and proper precautions should be taken. Frequently washing your hands and covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing can help eliminate the potential of contamination. The most effective method of prevention for individuals and their communities is vaccination. If treated early, antivirals can reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. Call or stop by our office today if you think that you have the flu.
If you need medical attention for a non-life-threatening illness or injury, eMedical Offices is open during the evening hours to treat walk-in patients. If you have questions about medical conditions, download iTriage from the iTunes or Android Marketplace, or check out iTriageHealth.com for your healthcare answers.