Flu aka Influenza
Most of us think of the flu as an unpleasant but run-of-the-mill malady. While it’s certainly a common illness that nearly everyone experiences at one time or another, it is nevertheless responsible for tens of thousandsdeaths and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations each year in the United States alone. Moreover, if you know anything about the flu pandemic of 1918, you know that influenza has the potential to be much, much worse. The bottom line is that while flu is rarely life threatening for people in good health at present, it’s nothing to mess around with.
What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
Simply put, a flu is like a cold, but worse. Colds can come on gradually and are usually marked by annoying upper respiratory symptoms like sore throats, runny noses, and coughs. It’s normal to feel run down and tired the first few days of a cold, but adults don’t usually experience a fever. Flus, on the other hand, tend to happen more rapidly and tendto be accompanied by notably elevated body temperatures. Cold-like upper respiratory symptoms are common, but coughs tend to be drier and nausea is sometimes an issue. Both viruses tend to be spread by in the air, on surfaces, or from all types of contact with an ill person. Handshakes are one common transmitter of both colds and flus.
What about stomach flu?
While the illness we call stomach flu typically involves fever and can keep us out of commission for a similar length of time, cases that are primarily marked by digestive symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting tend to be caused by different viruses and are often food-borne. While acute cases of food poisoning tend to be very intense but are usually over within a day or so, stomach viruses are less intense but can last a lot longer. The main concern with these illnesses is the risk of dehydration, so consuming plenty of fluids is essential.
How are flus treated?
Traditionally, flus are treated the same way we treat a nasty cold – staying home from work, plenty of rest, lots of liquids, and generally taking it easy and taking good care of ourselves. Antibiotics are always a bad idea because they don’t work on viruses and their overuse is a serious public health hazard as they can foster antibiotic resistant bacterial strains.
With a flu, however, we should be a little more watchful for symptoms that could indicate something more serious. In adults, watch for difficulty breathing, confusion, intense dizzy spells, severe pain, and persistent vomiting. In children, watch for changes in skin tone (often with a blue tint), rapid or labored breathing, a rash along with the fever, difficulty with drinking, as well as very obvious danger signs such as non-responsive behavior. Also, fevers over 103 in children call for a doctor visit. Of course, symptoms that don’t start to dissipate within a week or two are also a good reason to see a doctor.
There is, however, one instance where seeing a doctor quickly in a non-emergent flu can be very helpful. Tamiflu is a widely used drug which, if taken during the first 24-48 hours of a flu, can significantly reduce the length and intensity of a flu. It can also help to prevent getting sick if you’re around flu sufferers. Ifyou in either one of these situation, consider seeking out Tamiflu from a house call or urgent care doctor. (For more on Tamiflu, see this page.)
Are flu shots necessary?
Yes! Flu shots are recommended for almost everyone. While few flus are life-threatening for relatively young and healthy people, many of them can put the sufferer out of commission for a thoroughly miserable two weeks or longer. Flu shots can prevent the flu entirely on many occasions and, when it doesn’t, it can decrease the severity so that you’re up and around considerably faster. Even more important, you may be saving lives. Herd immunity means that everyone – even vulnerable people who may not be able to get a flu shot themselves – is safer from a bad case of the flu.
What about flu shot side effects?
For all but a very few of us, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Many people experience some soreness in the location of the shot and some might feel a bit achy and tired later in the day. These symptoms are usually gone by the following morning, but it may be best to get your shot on a day when you don’t have too much planned. Regardless, these very mild symptoms are nothing that an early bedtime and a nice cup of chicken soup or tea can’t help. Even standard flus can ruin all kinds of plans and cost a great deal of money in lost time at work. Is that a chance you want to take?
I’ve got symptoms I’m worried about, or I’m just coming down with a flu. What should I do?
Seeing a doctor quickly is the best advice in these cases, particularly if you’re interested in Tamiflu or are feeling very sick. If you like to get in touch with Dr. Michael Farzam and House Call Doctor Los Angeles call us at the phone number above or get in touch through our contact page.