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August 15, 2006 > The Flu: Know Your Enemy

The Flu: Know Your Enemy

Physician Presents Free Seminar on the Flu, Other Viruses

Almost everyone has suffered through the flu at one time or another. High fever, chills, muscle aches, dry cough, nasal congestion, and sore throat are some of the familiar symptoms. Each year, there’s bound to be someone we know – a coworker, friend or child – who’s going to get the flu.

As common as it seems, the flu is nothing to be sneezed at; it kills between 36,000 and 40,000 people in the United States each year and costs the economy billions of dollars, according to Dr. Hoang Trinh, medical director of Nakamura Clinic, Union City, who will be presenting a free seminar on the topic next week.

Uh oh, here comes flu season

"The flu is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses," Dr. Trinh says. "The season starts as early as October and ends as late as May, affecting numerous Americans."

Flu season typically is most widespread from December through February, and the illness is often confused with the common cold, but differs in the fact that its symptoms are usually more severe and have a more rapid onset, according to Dr. Trinh.

"It tends to start abruptly, with a sudden high fever, chills, dry cough, and headache," he explains. "Other symptoms may include muscle aches, weakness, extreme fatigue, a sore throat, runny nose, congestion, and possible gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea."

While many people show up at urgent care clinics or the Emergency Room during flu season, there is no cure for the flu.
"Antibiotics are not useful for treating viral illnesses such as influenza; they should be used only if there is a secondary complication of the flu, such as bacterial pneumonia or an ear or sinus infection," Dr. Trinh notes. "It’s important to remember that inappropriate use of antibiotics can be harmful and lead to the development of antibiotic resistance, which is a growing concern in the medical community."

Prevention, the best medicine
The good news is that there are several ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu.
"The main key to prevention is the influenza vaccine," Dr. Trinh stresses. "Protection provided by the flu vaccine usually begins within two weeks of receiving the vaccine, and has been found to be very effective. Therefore, it is possible to get the flu before the vaccine has had time to achieve its maximum effect. There are patients who feel like if they get the vaccine they’re going to get the flu, but that’s not true at all. That’s a myth. The vaccine is made from a killed virus, which is not capable of causing disease."

When the vaccine supply is limited, as it has been in recent years, Dr. Trinh says he recommends that those at greatest risk talk to their health care providers about getting vaccinated. High risk groups include:

  • Adults 65 and older
  •  Anyone living in a nursing home or long term care facility
  • Adults and children 6 months of age or older who suffer from any chronic heart or lung condition such as asthma, emphysema, high blood pressure, or coronary artery disease
  • Those with weakened immune systems, including those with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV),cancer, or chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease
  •  All children 6 months to 2 years of age
  •  All children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy
  •  Women who are going to be pregnant during flu season
  • *All health care professionals who will be in contact with patients

Generally, the ideal time to receive the vaccination is in October, Dr. Trinh says, but even if you cannot get vaccinated, there are still other ways to stay healthy.

"The flu is almost always spread from person to person when droplets are coughed or sneezed into the air or by touching a surface that an affected person has come into contact with and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes," Dr. Trinh says.

To decrease the chances of getting the flu or transmitting it to others once you have it, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if water is not available; cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; and if you are coming down with the flu -- don’t go to work or school. It’s also important to avoid touching your mouth and nose and then touching other objects or vice versa.

Treating the symptoms
If you do get the flu, it is possible to alleviate the symptoms or at least lessen their severity. Treatment for flu symptoms, Dr. Trinh says, can include taking Tylenol or Ibuprofen for muscle aches, fever and chills, as well as decongestants and cough medicines for nasal congestion, runny nose and coughing.

To help limit the severity of the illness, Dr. Trinh recommends healthy lifestyle choices, including getting plenty of rest and drinking lots of non-caffeinated fluids, as well as avoiding smoking, which can exacerbate respiratory symptoms.

"If you experience any difficulty breathing, chest pain, persistent coughing, worsening sinus congestion, persistent headaches, or vomiting and are unable to keep fluids down, you should be evaluated by your physician," Dr. Trinh notes. "You should also be seen if you have persistent fevers, as this may be a sign of a secondary infection in your body that needs to be treated."

Overall, prevention, healthy lifestyle and education are the most important factors to staying healthy, according to Dr. Trinh.

Learn more!
Next Tuesday, Aug. 22, Dr. Trinh will present an in-depth look at the flu and other viruses during a free Health & Wellness seminar, which will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. in the conference center adjacent to Nakamura Clinic, Union City, located at 33077 Alvarado-Niles Road.

To register, call Washington Hospital’s Health Connection line at (800) 963-7070. Attendance is limited to 35.

Overall, prevention, healthy lifestyle and education are the most important factors to staying healthy, according to Dr. Trinh.

To learn more about upcoming Health & Wellness classes, visit www.whhs.com, click on "For Our Community," and select "Health Classes and Support Groups" from the drop-down menu.
 
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