Doesn’t it seem like everyone you know is sick?
OK, maybe not everyone, but a lot of us. I’m not talking about the psychological “sick” that comes with cold, dreary, dark winter days, or the distress from political turmoil or international conflicts.
There are at least three kinds of physical sicknesses floating about.
First there’s the common cold. You know, that annoying sniffle and sneeze, cough and mild “blah” feeling that slows you down a bit and steals some strength for a few days. You know, standard winter stuff. But there’s also a nasty GI virus around. This comes on suddenly with diarrhea, nausea, sometimes vomiting and knocks your socks off for a while. Stay hydrated, stay away from others and you’ll get over this in a few days.
Kate called on Friday and told us Rowan slept for four hours as a morning nap, way longer than normal, woke up with diarrhea, threw up, had a temperature of 101.4 but was drinking, seemed alert but a little clingy. Mary’s first impulse was to head to the airport (Gate 8, United flight 4036, 5:05 PM to Chicago, Rita’s the gate agent) but Kate said no, let’s wait and see. By Saturday Ro was better and with a couple of days of rest, lots of hugs and careful hydration she was back in the saddle.
But the big threat, like most winters, is influenza — the flu.
You probably know a colleague who’s out sick with the flu, fever, headache, sore throat, severe fatigue, muscle aches and often dry cough, congestion, loss of appetite, occasionally with GI upset. This might be a stark reminder that you didn’t get a flu shot.
Flu season typically lasts from October through May with activity peaking between late November and March. In Pennsylvania so far, flu cases are still on an upswing. There have been three times as many cases reported from Luzerne County than from Lackawanna. Thank goodness no infants or young kids have died but 11 people older than 65 have. While the flu shot is usually more effective the earlier you get vaccinated, it’s not too late to get the shot.
Each year, millions of people in the United States get the flu and hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized, depending on the strains of the flu and the effectiveness of the particular vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of the flu by 50 to 60 percent, limiting the number of missed work and school days, as well as doctor visits.
The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. After you get the flu vaccine, it takes one to two weeks for protective antibodies to develop in the body.
The flu is a contagious respiratory virus. Symptoms include fever and chills, runny nose, muscle aches, cough, sore throat and fatigue. Most people who get the flu begin feeling better in a few days, with some symptoms lasting up to two weeks. However, for some high-risk people, the flu can cause more serious complications like bronchitis, pneumonia and sinus and ear infections.
People 65 and older, children younger than 5, pregnant women or people who have asthma, diabetes or heart disease are at a higher risk for complications and are urged to get the vaccine. If you take care of anyone at high risk, you should also get vaccinated.
The CDC recommends getting the injectable flu vaccine rather than the nasal spray flu vaccine, as there are concerns about the nasal spray’s effectiveness.
In addition to the shot, wash your hands frequently with soap and water, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and limit contact with people who have the flu.
If you have flu-like symptoms, you should stay home from work or school for at least 24 hours after your fever subsides to prevent the flu from spreading to others.
The flu can be contagious from one day before symptoms begin to five to seven days after becoming sick, so it’s important to stay home and rest until you’re feeling better.
There are some antiviral medicines that can reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms but only if taken early after first symptoms occur. Get vaccinated, but if you do get sick despite this, call your doctor early to consider an antiviral.
Rita, looks like Mary’s next trip to Chicago won’t need to be for sick-baby care after all.
Dr. Alfred Casale is chairman of surgery for the Geisinger Heart Institute, co-director of the Cardiovascular Service Line for the Geisinger Health System and Associate Chief Medical Officer of the Geisinger Health System and Chair of the Geisinger Heart Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]