Flu season 2018: Fast facts and tips you need to know

My name is Dr. Mitchell Blass and I am the hospital epidemiologist for Saint Joseph’s of Emory University. Influenza and cold viruses are two different viruses. One doesn’t mutate to become the other. The influenza illness is caused generally by influenza A virus or influenza B virus, whereas most colds are caused by a rhinovirus. The symptoms of a cold are much less severe than the symptoms of influenza and less likely to result in hospitalization or death. The symptoms of the flu generally lasts for between 3 and 5 days, sometimes as long as 7 or 9. Some of the first symptoms of influenza the person may be fever, may be muscle aches, but that’s usually followed by a cough, congestion, followed by the development of phlegm and mucus and can be complicated by acute bacterial pneumonia, which can result in death. Influenza deaths are highly unusual in people between the ages of 18 and 50. It is the young and the old, the individuals with poor immune systems or undeveloped immune systems, and the infirm patients that have other co-morbidities, so the very young and the very old are at the highest risk for influenza-related death. Individuals that have fever in excess of a 100.5, that have muscle aches — we call them myalgias in medicine — arthralgias, or joint aches, cough, congestion and those sort of symptoms, should seek medical attention. After that it’s important that the individual begin on Tamiflu or other medications to treat influenza, maintain good hydration, maintain good personal hygiene so as not to spread throughout their house and generally stay home from from work and other activities that involve other people for the until until you’re feeling better. Tamiflu is one of the few antiviral agents we have to treat influenza A and influenza B virus infection. In general it’s taken twice a day starting as soon as you’re diagnosed with influenza. The sooner one begins Tamiflu, the sooner it’s effectiveness can begin. A person is contagious while they’re still having fever and probably for a day thereafter. As far as the what we call fomites, solid things in a person’s environment, something someone might have touched, the influenza virus can live for up to 24 hours off of the human body. Let’s say on the handle, a doorknob, and things like that, so it’s very important to remember personal hygiene is important. Wash your hands and wipe down areas that may have been touched by individuals who have been sick with influenza-like illness. Presently we have two available forms of vaccinations. One is an injectable vaccination, which can be either trivalent, having three strains or quadrivalent, having four strains, or there is also an intranasal live influenza vaccination that’s available as well. Those generally cover three to four strains. The nasal vaccination for influenza is a live vaccination and therefore should not be given to individuals that have immune deficits or individuals that live in homes and are in close contact with people with immune deficiencies. Flu vaccination is recommended for all individuals and have the ability to diminish the number, decrease the number of influenza-related deaths. They may not stop any and all influenza-related illness, but it clearly decreases influenza related deaths. This year’s influenza vaccinations effectiveness is less than it has been in years previously, but it’s the best means of prevention that we do have. If you could drop the risk of influenza related death by ten or thirty percent, I think that’s still a reasonable vaccination to be taking. Individuals that are allergic to eggs, particularly that have anaphylactic reaction to eggs, should probably speak to their doctor and may not want to be taking the vaccine. Additionally there are very rare cases of what’s called Guillain-Barre, Syndrome, which is a neurologic condition that can occur and is associated with influenza vaccinations periodically, though infrequently. Equally important to influenza vaccination is personal hygiene and looking after personal close contacts with other individuals. If a person was to walk up to you and introduce themselves [SNEEZES INTO HAND], “Hi nice to meet you…” it’s probably not a good idea to be reaching out shaking their hand. Cough etiquette is important — remember your sleeve is important for you. [SNEEZES INTO ARM.] would be a much better way of coughing.

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