Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Read this Blog if youve got the Flu
What a week in the infection department, huh?
This year’s flu season’s been declared an “epidemic;” we’re getting hit with both regular winter respiratory flu AND the stomach flu (that notoriously horrible norovirus); schools are closing right and left (including my kids’ school) due to pervasive absence from illness, and I’m under the weather too. This entry might end up sounding like a series of rants, and I guess that’s ok every now and then. It’s been that sort of week.
Ok, flu epidemic to lead things off. While there are many positive tests for both Influenza A and B, this year’s most prevalent strain is Influenza A, H3N2 type. For whatever reason, it’s a strain that tends to affect seniors and children most severely, and at last check (via cdc.gov) there have been 20 reported deaths in children due to complications of Influenza. Mostly pneumonia or respiratory related. That’s a lot and tragic. Several news outlets indicated that at least some of these children were unvaccinated. Again, get your flu shot! Rates of flu are still rising, as evidenced by continued increasing numbers of positive tests reported by US clinical laboratories (cdc.gov).
But what about those poor folks who got the flu shot and still get sick?
I have a few friends whose flu vaccinated kids got the flu anyway. What’s up with that? Well, in ever-charming flu virus behavior, the H3N2 strain has helped itself to a little mutating already, so while this year’s vaccine was quite well matched to it initially, its surface proteins did a little change up which can potentially render the vaccine a little less effective. Is it still worth it to get the flu vaccine? ABSOLUTELY. Remember, there are several different “types” of flu and by getting the vaccine you at least get the benefit of protection from most (if not all) of them.
As I mentioned at the top of this entry, my kids had an unexpected day off from school on Friday due to the pervasive degree of illness. Almost 30% of the student body and faculty were out sick with something. Other schools around the country have done similar, some bringing in commercial cleaning crews to “decontaminate” the school with a good scrub-down with bleach. Besides an industrial grade cleaning, a day off from school allows everyone a day of healing (or 3 if next to a weekend) and a chance NOT to be on top of each other in close quarters in the classroom, passing germs around left and right. I’ll report later in the week what the consensus is about whether or not the day off paid off in the student health department. It’s an interesting concept however, and the first time in my doctor or parenting career that I’ve experienced it.
Wouldn’t you know, by the time the school closure was announced my kids had RECOVERED from the virus and were chirpy and well, but had given it to ME. And here I sit, writing in between sneezes and muscle aches, feeling varsity-level terrible. Tired and weak, the whole bit. As physicians, we preach to patients about the importance of hydration during illness and I can’t emphasize that enough, even when you don’t want to do anything, including drink, because you feel so awful. I’m going to add to this right now: in addition to HYDRATION with fluids please make sure you or your child has something else plus water in their system.
Some fluids with a bit of sugar in them. An electrolyte drink (Pedialyte, Gatorade, Powerade), half apple juice & half water, diluted soda, whatever.
Cells in the body need glucose for their regular metabolic processes, and when the glucose level is low, those processes don’t work as well, and as a result, you feel even weaker. Then you don’t hydrate as well, and the whole vicious circle of dehydration, low glucose, and low energy starts all over again.
Some general reminders as we tackle this flu season together:
- The flu is a virus. Antibiotics are not going to help you if you have just the flu. This is because antibiotics heal bacterial infections, and the flu is a viral infection.
- Oseltamivir (otherwise known as Tamiflu) is an antiviral medication that can be prescribed for the flu, but there are a few caveats. It’s only been shown to work when taken within the first 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms. Oseltamivir has its own side effects that can range anywhere from nausea, to insomnia, to even psychological side effects. That last one is a big deal as it is more prevalent in children – tell your doctor if your child exhibits signs of unusual behavior, including confusion, agitation, or self-injury. I don’t mean to scare you away from Tamiflu; but be sure to discuss it with your doctor first.
- Give yourself a lot of TLC. The flu requires lots of supportive care so take the time to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and make yourself comfortable. Reach into your version of the pink plastic basket and get the essentials. Acetaminophen every 4-6 hours and/or Ibuprofen every 6-8 hours (with food) will help keep you comfortable and reduce any fever or aches you might have. Cool mist humidifiers will help you to breathe a little easier, and saline solutions are helpful to ease your congestion.
- I don’t recommend cough medicines. They’ve never been proven through research to work, although I acknowledge that some people feel helped by them. Your body is coughing for a reason – to help get rid of the infection. If you want a natural but research proven alternative (and you’re older than 12 months), try out honey, which is sweet, works pretty well, and doesn’t have any of the nasty side effects. Wash your hands and do your best to stay away from others. Trust me, they will appreciate it!
On that note, I’m going to make myself a cup of hot, herbal tea with a bit of honey in it. I’m going to rest, cough into my elbow, stay home, and wash my hands.
Just doing my part 🙂