It’s not too late to take flu precautions

It’s flu season, and if you have it, you want only two things: chicken soup and Mom. But health offi

It’s flu season, and if you have it, you want only two things: chicken soup and Mom.

But health officials say there are precautionary measures (a vaccine is the most effective) and anti-virals that could bring relief before you spend a week in bed or have the flu trigger more serious complications.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year’s malady is more severe than last year’s strain, and widespread flu activity kicked in early, on Jan. 12, compared to last year’s surge starting on Feb. 10.

In upstate New York this month, two pediatric deaths were flu-related, including a 7-month-old infant in Monroe County and a 7-year-old in Orange County. State Health Department officials said there were nine flu-related pediatric deaths in 2007.

On the local level, the flu hasn’t sent any children or adults to the hospital for complications.

“At Albany Medical Center, we haven’t admitted any patients yet for the flu or flu-related complications,” said Shawna DeBonis, RN and infectious control practitioner.

State Health Department officials urge people at high risk to obtain a flu shot, including children ages 6 months to 5 years old, older adults, and anyone with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma.

Symptoms of the flu mirror those of a bad cold, but the flu hits harder, and can linger for up to one week or more. Colds and flu are nasty viruses, but experts say symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme fatigue and dry cough are more common and intense with the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, and colds generally do not trigger serious health problems, such as pneumonia or bacterial infections that could result in hospitalization. Lab tests can be done early to determine whether you’ve indeed contracted the flu. But medical experts say it’s best to try to stay off the sick list altogether.

Your best chance at staying healthy is the vaccine. And if you’re wishing you got the flu shot three months ago, there’s still time.

“The flu season is at its height in February and March, but you can get it as late as May,” said Beth Goldberg, state Health Department spokeswoman. “It takes two weeks to develop immunity after you receive the vaccine. So, if you get the vaccine right now, chances are good you might not catch it this winter.”

Goldberg said there’s no shortage of the vaccine this year, and that the serum is effective on this year’s type of flu.

“There’s plenty of vaccine to go around,” Goldberg said. “The formula contains three virulent strains, and we’re finding the virus that’s out there this year matches at least one strain. Even if it’s not an exact match, the body’s immune system will recognize the strain and kick in to fight it.”

If you’ve already caught the flu, call your physician immediately for help, even if you’re not in the high-risk category.

“Go to the doctor at the first sign of symptoms,” said Goldberg. “Don’t wait it out and hope it goes away. There are anti-viral medications out there that can help. But keep in mind that antibiotics are useless against the flu, so don’t ask your physician for them.”

Area pharmacists are seeing a flood of the flu-stricken coming through their doors seeking a cure that doesn’t exist. Check out the cold medicine aisle, and you’ll find enough symptom-relievers to make your head spin.

There are fever reducers, decongestants, cough suppressants and more in tablets, capsules, mists, sprays, or tiny packet to pour into orange juice. Some people swear by huge doses of vitamin C or homeopathic remedies, including zinc medicines offered in nasal swabs, oral pumps or fruit-flavored lozenges.

Do they work?

“There is no scientific evidence that shows any of the over-the-counter medications as effective,” said Albany Medical Center’s DeBonis. “People should just treat the symptoms — fever reducer, pain reliever for aches and pains, rest and plenty of liquids.”

Pharmacist Tom Golden at Apple Pharmacy in Malta said he offers advice to the flu-stricken every day.

“People do hope there’s something that will magically cure the flu, but if they discovered it, there would be a lot of medical companies out of business,” said Golden.

To prevent the spread of the pervasive flu virus, follow all the tried-and-true rules for keeping your germs to yourself. Wash your hands often, frequently wipe down surfaces used by more than one person like telephones and computer keyboards, and refrain from coughing on others.

Spread through respiratory droplets sent airborne through coughing and sneezing, the virus quickly finds new hosts, and you may be sharing the flu with family, friends and co-workers before you even know you’re ill.

“You become contagious two days before you show symptoms, and you stay that way for five days after you feel sick,” said DeBonis.

“Definitely quarantine yourself. Don’t go to work or send kids to school. Go to bed, rest, and wait it out.”

Most people will rejoin the living within a week after becoming sick, but if symptoms persist or worsen, they should see a doctor immediately.

Health experts have one golden rule when it comes to making it through the winter flu-free.

“All the pharmacists get the vaccine; in our occupation it’s an absolute necessity,” said Golden.

“I get the vaccine early every year, and I never get sick,” said Goldberg. “This is an option open to anyone.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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