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We are Now Entering the Heart of the Cold and Flu Season

We are Now Entering the Heart of the Cold and Flu Season

There are important differences between what people call the flu and regular colds. The flu is short for influenza, which is a respiratory infection that occurs at this time of the year pretty much every year, that’s why they call it flu season. Sometimes, people refer to almost any ailment as the flu but in this context we are being specific about the illness caused by the family of influenza viruses.

The typical symptoms of the flu are sudden onset of fever, chills, aches and pains, nasal congestion, sore throat and cough. Regular colds are also caused by viruses but different types altogether. They usually do not cause the severity of the flu though they can have similar symptoms.

If the flu hits, you may be able to shorten it’s severity and duration by taking prescription Tamiflu but it must be started promptly (within 48 hrs, the sooner the better) in addition, symptom relievers like Tylenol or Ibuprofen (brand names Motrin or Advil) can make you feel better till you get better. Sleep, good fluid intake and nutrition are also important ways to speed recovery. Stay out of commission from school or work until you have had no fever for 24 hrs (without medication to control it!). By then the most contagious period will have passed. Antibiotics are not effective in treating the flu and are not indicated unless a secondary bacterial process like an ear or sinus infection or pneumonia has occurred.

Flu can become serious and can lead to hospitalizations and rarely even death. Watch for extreme lethargy, paleness, and difficulty breathing as warning signs it is becoming severe. This would be more common in children under 2 and those with chronic underlying diseases such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or any one in an immunocompromised state from either medications or illness.

Each year different strains of the very large family of flu viruses cause the illness. This year’s predominant strain is H1N1, the same one that was epidemic in 2009. Fortunately, the shot this year has that strain in it, so it should be effective for prevention. It’s not too late to get the vaccine, it only takes 2-3 weeks to protect you and the season can last through March or later. Always be diligent about hand washing and covering coughs into tissue, sleeves or handkerchiefs, try not to cover with your hand. (unless you plan on washing with every cough!)

Just like all seasons it ends and the next thing we head into is wonderful spring, if you have allergies that’s not so wonderful and to you…. it’s allergy season!