It’s a few weeks into the new year and it’s time to unveil my New Year’s goal. I don’t make resolutions, because 93% of New Year’s resolutions fail – so it’s just a goal. As you may have noticed, my blog is disappointingly empty. So, I have decided to be more committed to blogging, with a goal of at least two blogs a month. So without further ado:
The FLU is here!
The flu is probably one of my favorite topics because it invites so much debate, especially surrounding the vaccine. Just to be clear, we are talking about influenza – a respiratory illness with fever, headache, cough, runny nose and body aches, caused by the influenza virus – not the “stomach flu” which is usually vomiting, diarrhea and maybe a fever.
The flu has hit the U.S. early and hard. At this writing, the CDC reports that the flu is widespread in nearly every state. New York State and Boston have declared public health emergencies due to the flu. And there is a predominance of the H3 variety, which tends to produce more severe disease. All this means that we are shaping up for a pretty rotten flu season.
In my practice, I have seen way more flu than this time last year. Last year was a very mild flu year and we didn’t see much activity till late with mostly mild disease. I’ve already lost count of how many patients with flu I’ve seen in the clinic. Fortunately, I’ve not had to hospitalize anyone yet for it.
I am a big proponent of the flu vaccine. Because influenza varieties change from year, previous exposure to the flu or previous immunization does not mean you will be immune to this year’s variety. The flu vaccine is the only way to help you prevent getting the disease, other than staying in your house and locking the doors. Sure, hand washing helps, but who remembers to wash hands after touching every door knob, shopping cart, bank pen, hand rail, etc.? That being said, it doesn’t always work. This year, the CDC says the flu vaccine is 62% effective. How they come up with that number, I don’t know. But it’s better than the usual 50% effectiveness of your average flu vaccine.
Here’s the top 5 reasons I hear for skipping a flu shot:
“Doesn’t the flu vaccine make you sick?” A resounding NO! People can have side effects from the flu vaccine, like muscle aches, low grade fever and tiredness, but it can’t give you the flu.
“I’ve never been sicker than when I got that darn flu shot.” Well, that’s unfortunate, but it wasn’t from the flu vaccine, you just got really unlucky.
“I’m healthy, I never get sick.” I hear this one all the time, and that’s great. But, I also see those healthy people coming in with the flu, looking for a cure-all and resolving to get their flu shot next year.
“I don’t believe in the flu shot.” This one I don’t really understand. I can understand people being wary of getting an injection or having something foreign placed in their body. However, if you catch the flu (or any illness) you are getting a foreign invader in your body, too. Maybe they mean they want to develop “natural immunity” to the illness. As stated above, you won’t develop a lifelong immunity from catching the flu and it doesn’t make your body stronger. It’s not worth catching something that might kill you.
“I don’t like needles.” Okay, I get this one. Fortunately, there is a solution. For patients age 2-49 without certain conditions, they can get the Nasal Spray (FluMist) influenza vaccine. Sanofi-Pasteur has also developed a vaccine with a very tiny needle for patients older than 18. They spray probably works best in children, but it’s better than no vaccine.
If you haven’t gotten your flu shot and you want to get it, you need to get it NOW. Our clinic is already out of the vaccine for patients older than 3 and we are unable to get more from the manufacturer. Your best bet is to check with local pharmacies and see if they have any left.
If you catch the flu, the best thing you can do is stay at home, rest, drink tons of fluid, take over the counter pain relievers and fever reducers (Tylenol, ibuprofen) and, for patients over 4 years old, cough and cold medicines if needed. Do not give aspirin to children. Tamiflu is the medicine of choice for reducing the duration and severity of illness. It also works to help prevent catching the flu if you have an ongoing exposure. Tamiflu is best used by people who are at increased risk of developing complications from the flu. This year, the liquid form of Tamiflu is already in short supply and it wouldn’t surprise me if the pill forms become hard to find as well. This means we should be using it sparingly.
I hope this helps y’all out with a little insight into the flu. I’m happy to discuss more.
If you guys have any thoughts for future blogs or things you’d like to hear my thoughts on, please let me know.