By Starrla Cray
You’re curled in bed, shaky cold with beads of sweat on your forehead, too dizzy to think, let alone move.
If you’re one of the unfortunate people to catch the flu this season, you’re not alone.
Lasting from November through April, with most cases late December to early March, flu season affects 5 to 20 percent of the US population each year (www.flufacts.com).
To prevent this respiratory illness, Staci Stibal, an LPN at GRHS Lester Prairie Clinic, said it’s a good idea to get a flu shot.
“We’ve had a lot of people come in this year for the shot,” she said. In 2004, 114 people came to the Lester clinic for the shot. In 2008, 353 people were vaccinated.
“A lot of people are doing a good job trying to stay healthy this year,” Stibal said.
In general, the vaccine prevents influenza illness in approximately 70 to 90 percent of healthy adults under 65 years of age (www.medicinenet.com).
“It’s helped many people,” Jim Bfeifle, physician’s assistant at Ridgeview Winsted Clinic, said. Of course, there are some who still get the flu. “There’s no guarantee.”
Because the flu shot only protects against select strains of the virus, some people think strengthening the immune system is a good way to avoid the flu altogether.
Healthcareersjournal.com recommends eating well, getting enough rest, and exercising adequately. Certain foods, such as yogurt, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, oregano, and green tea, are believed to be especially helpful.
It is possible that staying relaxed may also improve the immune system. According to www.naturalmedicine.suite.101.com, anxiety and stress can make people more susceptible to viruses.
However, “nothing has been proven except plenty of rest and plenty of fluids,” Nicholas LaFond, MD of family medicine at Ridgeview Delano Clinic, said.
For most people, getting the flu means a few days in bed, but for some, influenza can be a serious concern. According to medicinenet.com, complications from the flu cause 150,000 hospitalizations and about 36,000 deaths in America each year.
Because about 90 percent of flu-related deaths are in the elderly population, nursing home residents are often vaccinated. “It would be horrible to have the flu come through there.”
But, even the healthiest people are not exempt from the effects of influenza.
“Healthy young adults tend to be sicker when they have the flu, because their immune system reacts more vigorously,” LaFond said.
During the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919, millions of people died from the virus. “Many died not from the actual infection, but from the body’s reaction trying to fight it off,” LaFond said.
The following excerpt from an article on the Naval Historical Center web site describes the outbreak:
The 1918 influenza was not the flu Americans were familiar with. It was a horror that turned victims bluish-black, then drowned them with their own body fluids. The death toll was highest in the ages 15 to 40, those in the peak of health. The victims would be fine one minute and the next, incapacitated, fever-racked, and delirious. Temperatures rose to 104-106 degrees, skin turned blue, purple, or deep brown from lack of oxygen. Massive pneumonia attacked the lungs, filling them with fluid; blood gushed from the nose. Death was quick, savage, and terrifying.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the “single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.” This can be done with either the flu shot or a nasal spray flu vaccine.
The nasal spray, known as FluMist, was first licensed in 2003. It uses a live but weakened flu virus to boost immunity and is approved for healthy, non-pregnant people age 2 to 49.
The flu shot is the most common form of vaccination.
The most common side effect is soreness in the spot where the shot was given. Serious side effects are rare, according to the CDC. Because the flu shot contains inactivated viruses, there is no way to get the flu from the shot.
If someone already has the flu, it is too late for that person to get the shot.
Within the first day or two of the flu, doctors sometimes prescribe an antiviral to help speed the recovery process.
“It can reduce the longevity of the flu, but it’s not a cure,” Bfeifle said. “It only really shortens it a day or two.”
Because the strains of the flu virus mutate very quickly, scientists have to make a different vaccine each year. If a new strain appears unexpectedly, the vaccine may not protect against it.
However, a new universal flu vaccine is being tested on humans, according to a 2007 article in Science Daily. If approved, this vaccine could replace annual vaccines. Invented in the 1990s, the vaccine provided total protection against “A” strains of the flu in mice and laboratory animals.
For now, getting the annual vaccine and taking other preventative measures are good ways to lessen the chance of coming down with the flu. Kidshealth.org advises avoiding large crowds whenever possible, never sharing eating utensils, and never picking up used tissues.
Think you have the flu?
Symptoms: Fever, aches, chills, tiredness, and sudden symptoms are typical signs of influenza. (www.flufacts.com)
Prevention: It is possible to catch influenza from someone who isn’t sick yet. According to the web site for antiviral drug Tamiflu, people can spread the flu one day before they begin experiencing symptoms and up to five days after they become ill.
“The number-one thing is hand washing,” Cokato nurse Linda Samuelson said. Even with good health habits, it can be difficult to completely prevent the flu. “If somebody coughs or sneezes on you, you’re probably going to get it.”