The 411 on the Flu

We hear about it everywhere; a relative has it, your doctor and pharmacist want you to get vaccinated against it, tv commercials mention it, but what exactly is the flu? The flu, or influenza, is a viral infection (like the common cold we mentioned in the last blog post) caused by haemophilus influenza virus A or B. The virus attacks your upper and lower respiratory tracts, including your nose, mouth, throat and chest areas. These are also the areas from which is spreads. The virus is spread through contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected person. This means coming into contact with something an infected person has coughed on, sneezed on, eaten off of or drank out of. Flu symptoms include coughing, sneezing, runny nose, chest and sinus congestion, headache, fatigue, body aches and a high fever. These symptoms are likely to begin 1 – 4 days after coming into contact with the virus.

How is this different from the common cold? The symptoms you experience with both are similar, however, these symptoms will be much more severe if you have the flu. If you have a cold, you should not have body aches or a high fever, those symptoms are more likely to occur with the flu. You will feel more weak and tired with the flu than a common cold, so much so that you may not feel like you can get out of bed or go about your daily life. When your cold symptoms become so severe that you feel the need to call out of work, or can’t get out of bed, you should see your primary care provider.

Like the common cold, antibiotics are ineffective at treating the flu. However, unlike the common cold, there is an antiviral medication that your doctor can prescribe to help fight the virus. This medication is called oseltamivir, better known as Tamiflu. This medication works by preventing the replication of the virus in your body, eventually causing it to die off. Depending on how it is prescribed, it can be used to reduce getting the flu, if exposed to a known case or to shorten the duration and severity of the flu if you have an active case. In both cases, it needs to be taken within 48 hours of first signs of symptoms.  Possible side effects of Tamiflu include, nausea, vomiting and headache.

The best and only way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated against it. Why do we do this every year? Influenza is a smart virus that changes every year in order to evade the vaccine given the previous year. The vaccine produced each year is effective against the strains of the virus that scientists think are most likely to infect people each year. This means the vaccine is not 100% effective against the flu because we cannot exactly predict how that pesky virus will change, but we can come pretty close!

If you are thinking that you don’t need that vaccine because never get sick or you can tough it out if you do, think about those whose immune systems are weaker than yours and are more susceptible to consequences if they do get the flu! These people include children, people over 65 years old and people with weakened immune systems due to medications or disease states. I bet you know someone that falls into one of those categories! Those people have a harder time fighting the flu, which could lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an even bigger beast to tackle, and can result in hospitalizations and death in severe cases. So if you don’t get vaccinated for yourself, get vaccinated for those you care about!

The flu vaccine is covered with a $0 copay under most insurances, so it’s of no cost to you! Flu vaccinations do not require an appointment at our pharmacy, but the best time for us is between 8 AM and 10 AM any day of the week. If you have any questions at all about the flu itself or the flu vaccine your Four Corners pharmacist or pharmacy student would be happy to answer them!

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