By Theresa A.V. Donati, MD
Evergreen Internal Medicine
The United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends annual influenza vaccination for all individuals six months of age and older. People who are considered high-risk individuals, with chronic heart, lung, kidney disease, or cancers and their close contacts, and healthcare workers should be strongly encouraged to get the vaccination yearly.
Older adults and individuals with underlying health problems are at increased risk for complications of influenza, including death. Influenza vaccination not only reduces the risk of influenza infection but also reduces the severity of illness in those who are infected. Vaccination results in fewer influenza infections and fewer missed days from work in such individuals.
The flu is a highly contagious disease, caused by influenza A or B viruses that are spread easily from person to person by coughing or sneezing. You will usually have to be in close contact (within six feet) of someone who is ill to become infected. It occurs more in the winter months due to more time spent indoors with contaminated people.
Flu symptoms usually include a fever higher than 100° F, intense headaches, severe muscle aches, fatigue, non-productive cough, nasal discharge, and sore throat, after an incubation period of one to four days. These symptoms may last from five days to a week or more.
Some people will develop post influenza weakness and fatigue, which may last several weeks. This is different from a viral upper respiratory infection or common cold, which rarely is associated with high fever, headache, or exhaustion. A common cold can be associated with a mild to moderate cough whereas influenza is usually associated with a very severe dry cough and chest congestion.
You should seek medical attention if you have shortness of breath or trouble breathing, pressure in your chest or stomach, dizziness when standing, confusion, uncontrollable vomiting or inability to stay hydrated.
Treat flu symptoms with rest, fluids, and acetaminophen to relieve the fever, headache, and muscle aches. Antiviral medications like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) can be used to treat or prevent the flu if you are seen within the first 48 hours of your flu symptoms. This may reduce your flu symptoms by about one day. Antibiotics are generally not useful for treating viral illnesses like influenza unless you have a complication such as pneumonia, ear infection or sinusitis. Complications are more likely in those considered at high risk, such as those with chronic medical problems or who are immunocompromised.
When in doubt, see a medical professional. In addition to getting a flu shot every year, remember to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with antibacterial soaps or use gel hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of influenza.