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The Flu is No Ordinary Cold!

by WayneTimes.com
January 9, 2015

Dear Doc,
What’s the big deal with the flu this year? It’s all over the news. Isn’t it similar to any other cold caused by a virus?
The “flu”, refers to an upper respiratory infection caused by a specific virus, the Influenza virus. Compared with viruses that result in the common cold, the flu causes a more severe illness. True flu symptoms include fever, as high as 103 in adults and possibly higher in children, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headaches, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue. Nausea, vomiting and gastrointestinal symptoms may occur but are rare. Ask anyone who truly has had the flu and they will tell you it is nothing like the common cold.

There are a few things that are true in life - death, taxes and change. There are more things that are probable in life. Here are four of them: (1) You probably won’t win the lottery. (The odds of winning the Power Ball are 1 in 175,223,510; you are much more likely to die by a lighting strike 1 in 134,906.) (2) A Cleveland sports franchise will probably not win a championship this year. (The last Cleveland championship was in 1964 but LeBron James gives Cleveland hope.) (3) If a piece of buttered toast falls on the floor it is probable to land butter side down. (In the past, this has often been considered just a pessimistic belief, but scientific studies have found that when toast is dropped from a table (as opposed to being thrown in the air), it does fall butter-side down at least 62% of the time. (4) It is also probable that between the months of October and May, the typical flu season, you will be exposed to the flu virus.

Most people who get the flu recover completely in 1 to 2 weeks, but some people develop serious and potentially life threatening complications from the flu. The very young, the very old, pregnant women and those with chronic health problems (such as asthma, emphysema, diabetes, kidney and heart disease) are at more risk for complications. Each flu season is slightly different in length and severity as the strain of influenza virus may be different each year.
Serious flu outbreaks in the past have led to significant misery and death. The 1918 – 1919 flu pandemic caused by the “Spanish flu” resulted in 600,000 deaths in the U.S. and an estimated 50 million deaths worldwide, approximately 3% of the world’s population at the time. In 1957 – 1958, the “Asian flu” resulted in 70,000 U.S. deaths. In 2010, the H1N1 “Swine flu” resulted in 300,000 deaths worldwide.

The 2014 – 2015 season is nothing like those past pandemics, but has reached epidemic proportion according to the Center for Disease Control. Twenty-one children have died across the country from influenza. Also, hundreds of adults have died and thousands have been hospitalized. Tens of thousands have missed work as widespread cases
have been reported in 36 states.

To prevent the flu, experts urge you to get a flu shot. Although not as effective against this year’s strain, the flu shot does offer some protection and may result in less severe symptoms if you do get the flu. (You cannot get the flu from the flu shot as the flu vaccine only contains dead virus!) Wash your hands frequently throughout the flu season; when hand washing isn’t possible use an alcohol based hand sanitizer. Wipe down shared phones, keyboards and other equipment at work. Avoid interacting with someone who is ill.

If you feel as if you have the flu, stay home and avoid spreading the flu. Drink plenty of liquids, rest and use over-the-counter medicines as directed to help with the symptoms. If you are very ill or fall into the category of someone who is at risk for complications from the flu, seek medical attention. There are two antiviral medications, one in a pill form, Tamiflu and one in an inhaled form, Relenza that can help treat and lessen the severity of flu symptoms. These medications work best if started within 48 hours of symptoms of the flu. The flu is serious business. Take the necessary precautions to stay healthy. Remember the quote by entertainer Will Rogers, “The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”

Dr. Nagpaul is a medical doctor and is board-certified in Internal Medicine. He currently is the Medical Director at Newark-Wayne Community Hospital, for Wayne County Public Health and at Blossomview Nursing Home. This column is meant to be educational and not intended to be used to make individual treatment decisions. Prior to starting or stopping any treatment, please confer with your own health care provider. To send questions, please email Dr. Nagpaul at Arun.Nagpaul
@rochestergeneral org and put “Ask a Doc” in the subject line.

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