Jan 22 2015
This year’s flu is one of the worst we’ve seen, so read up on the dreaded influenza virus and stay healthy.
Your head is so stuffed up you feel like you’re underwater, have a hacking cough, can’t decide if you’re freezing cold or overheating, and your body feels like you’ve been hit by a train. Welcome to the flu, and this year’s version is nothing to mess with. In fact, influenza experts are calling it one of the worst years ever and have more bad news: the flu shot we got as a preventive measure probably isn’t working.
Each year, between 5 and twenty percent of Americans come down with a case of the flu, which adds up to 15 to 60 million people, directly or indirectly causing thousands of deaths. And this year is no exception, with doctors’ offices, pharmacy lines, and emergency rooms filled with the flu-stricken. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reports that thirty-six states are experiencing unusually high levels of flu activity, with parts of the Pacific Northwest and the southern central United States getting hit the worst.
“So far this season, influenza A — H3N2 viruses — have been detected most frequently, and in almost all states,” says CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD. Unfortunately, flu seasons with H3 viruses dominant, as is this year’s H3N2, re usually far more severe and longer lasting than other strains of the virus. While data still needs to be compiled this year, so far this season the hospitalization rate for flu has been 9.7 people per 100,000, while in most normal years the hospitalization rate is 4.3 people. The last time we saw a H3N2 strain of the flu was 2012-2013, when 5.5 people out of 100,000 were hospitalized. Already the CDC is saying that our flu season may be more severe, last longer, and cause worse illnesses, which those numbers display.
So what about that flu shot you got back in November? The CD reluctantly admits that this year’s flu shot may be offering minimal protection. Every year scientists, health workers, and vaccine manufacturers from around the globe meet several months before the flu season to make an educated guess about which strains of flu may be most prevalent that coming winter. But even with their expert opinions they are just guesses. In a year where they guess right, the ensuing flu vaccine may be 60-90 percent effective in protecting against the influenza virus. This year, it seems to be only 23 percent effective, according to the CDC.
“Unfortunately about half of the viruses in cases that we’ve identified this season are different than the ones that are included in this year’s vaccine. The vaccine won’t protect against these viruses.”
So even though 40 percent of Americans, about 140 million people, got their flu shot, it might offer a low instance of help. Children under 2 and those over 65, or people with chronic health conditions like asthma are most at risk of severe illness from this year’s flu.
But still, the CDC and medical community recommends you do get vaccinated with a flu shot this year, as there is still a measure of protection, virtually no drawback, and the effects could be cumulative up to 4 years.
Of course we all know the symptoms too well: a fever, chills, coughing, a sore throat, stuffed up and running nose, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, and sometimes nausea.
The flu virus is most easily transmitted when virus-laden droplets are sprayed from an open mouth or nose (coughing or sneezing.) You can also easily catch the flu from touching a surface that has flu germs, as they can live and remain communicable outside the body for up to eight hours. When a person touches this surface and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, the virus is transmitted straight to their body and they become infected.
Doctors recommend a few basic measures to prevent catching the flu:
1) Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, especially after being in public.
2) Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth as much as possible.
3) Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick with the flu.
4) Getting plenty of sleep, regular exercise, managing stress, not smoking, staying hydrated, and eating a healthy diet all help boost the immune system.
If you are healthy but are exposed to a person with the flu or think you’re coming down with it, there are some antiviral drugs that can prevent you from falling ill. Remember that the flu is a virus, not bacterial, so antibiotics will have no effect. But there are antiviral drugs that can help you from getting sick, or minimize the effect.
Currently there are four antiviral drugs approved for treating the flu in the United States—oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), amantadine (Symmetrel), and rimantadine (Flumadine). The sooner you take these the better, as they could be up to 70 to 90 percent effective at preventing the flu.
The flu is contagious for up to a week so you’ll want to stay home from work and try to stay away from family. It’s recommended you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without medication so you’re not contagious. Some medications will help treat the symptoms of the flu, like Tylenol Cold & Flu and DayQuil and NyQuil.
For those who prefer more natural remedies, there are things you can do to feel better and recover faster:
- Drink lots of water. You’ll want to stay hydrated and even Gatorade, soda, and fruit juices are fine, but stay away from caffeine or alcohol.
- Eating chicken soup may actually help you feel better. The old mothers’ tale has been backed up by a study published in the journal Chest, showing that chicken soup helps symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections.
- Get extra sleep, take naps, and get plenty of rest to give your immune system a chance of rebuilding.
- Use a humidifier in sick rooms or take long, hot showers for the steam several times a day. Breathing moist air helps ease nasal congestion and breaks up a cough.
- You may even want to put boiled water in a bowl and put your face over it with a towel over your head to breath the steam. A drop of peppermint or eucalyptus oil in the water helps even more.
- A hot towel or warm compress on your forehead and nose will help a headache and relieve sinus pain.
- If you have a sore throat, try cough drops or throat lozenges to coat the throat and ease pain, and you can also try gargling with warm salt water several times a day.
We hope this helps you…so feel better!