- The vaccine combines protection against H1N1 and seasonal flu
- Traditional injection, nasal spray, and the new intra-dermal injections are available (check with your healthcare provider)
- You can infect others one day before and 5 to 7 days after becoming sick
- It can take up to two weeks for the antibodies to develop after being vaccinated
What is the Flu?
The flu is a viral infection caused by the influenza virus. It affects the respiratory system and can cause mild to severe illness. Sometimes it can lead to death. Each winter, during flu season, the virus spreads around the world. While it is possible to get the flu at other times of the year, it is less likely.
There are two main kinds of influenza virus: Type A and Type B. The strains are usually different from one year to the next.
If you have the flu, you can infect others one day before you notice any symptoms and up to five days (sometimes more) after you become sick. This means you may be infecting others even before you know you have the virus.
Symptoms usually start abruptly. They may include some or all of the following:
- High fever and chills
- Severe muscle aches
- Severe fatigue
- Decreased appetite or other gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
- Runny nose, nasal congestion
- Watery eyes, conjunctivitis
- Sore throat
- Cough (can last for two or more weeks)
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
Symptoms usually last between 7 to 10 days, but you may still have a cough and feel tired.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold products should not be used to treat infants or children less than two years of age. Rare but serious side effects have been reported. They include convulsions, rapid heart rates, decreased levels of consciousness, and even death. Serious side effects have also been reported in children aged 2-11 years. Research is ongoing about the safety of OTC products for this age group.
Flu diagnosis is usually based on symptoms. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. In some cases, your doctor may take samples from your nose or throat to confirm the diagnosis.
Antiviral Prescription Medicines
Most people with the flu do not need antiviral medicine. Your doctor will decide. You may need it if you are in a high-risk group or if you have a severe illness (such as breathing problems).
Antiviral medicines may help relieve symptoms and shorten the time you are sick. They must be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. Antiviral medicines include:
- Zanamivir (Relenza) — Although highly effective against currently circulating influenza, this medicine may worsen asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) — Highly effective against currently circulating influenza.
- Amantadine (Symmetrel) — Not reliably effective against influenza Type A.
- Rimantadine (Flumadine) — Not reliably effective against influenza Type A.
Please note: Oseltamivir and perhaps Zanamivir may increase the risk of confusion shortly after they are taken, especially in children. Children should be closely monitored for signs of unusual behavior.
Rest and Fluids
It is important to get plenty of rest when your body is fighting the flu. Also, drink a lot of liquids including water, juice, and caffeine-free tea.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Relievers
These medications are used to control fever and to treat aches and pains. Adults can use acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
Over-the-Counter (OTC) Pain Cough Medicines
These include decongestants, expectorants, anti-histamines, cough suppressants, and cough drops.
Elderberry extract may reduce flu symptoms. Researchers found that products containing elder-berry, such as Sambucol and ViraBLOC, decreased symptoms in some studies. But be aware that herbal remedies are not regulated by the government. The supplements you buy may not have the same ingredients as those studied and may contain impurities (things that should not be in the product).
Prevention — Ways to Avoid Getting the Flu
The best way to prevent the flu is to be vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone aged six months and older should get a flu vaccine. You must be vaccinated each year since the virus changes every season.
Two forms of the vaccine are available: flu shots (injection) and a nasal spray. You should get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available. The nasal spray is currently approved for healthy people aged 2 to 49 years old. It takes about two weeks for the vaccination to protect you against the flu. Pregnant women and anyone with asthma should not receive the nasal vaccine. They should have a flu shot instead.
- Wash your hands often, especially when you come in contact with someone who is sick. Wash your hands for 15-20 seconds with soap and water. Rubbing alcohol-based cleaners on your hands is also helpful.
- Avoid close contact with people who have respiratory infections. The flu can spread starting one day before and ending up to one week after symptoms appear. If you have to be in close contact with a sick person, wear a facemask or a disposable respirator.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw away the tissue after you use it. Coughing or sneezing into your elbow or upper sleeve is also helpful.
- Do not spit.
- Do not share drinks or personal items.
- Do not bite your nails or put your hands near your eyes, mouth or nose.
- Keep surfaces clean by wiping them with a household disinfectant.
- Sometimes it is beneficial to take antiviral medications to prevent the flu. Talk with your doctor about taking antiviral medications if you are exposed to the flu and if you are at high risk for complications of the flu, or you are a healthcare worker, public health worker or first responder.
If you have the flu and live with someone who is at risk for complications (e.g., elderly, babies, someone with cancer), that person may need to take antiviral medications to prevent getting the flu from you. Remember that these medications are not a substitute for getting vaccinated.
Vaccination is still the best way to prevent the flu.
Those who SHOULD NOT be vaccinated:
Influenza vaccine is not approved for use in children younger than six months. Their caregivers should be vaccinated instead. People who are sick with fever should wait until their symptoms pass to get vaccinated. Some people should not be vaccinated before talking to their doctor. This includes:
- People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
- People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
- People who have developed Guillian-Barré syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.
This information was last reviewed September 2, 2012 by physicians at Fairfax Family Practice. Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.