Provider Blog by Avi Silber, MD, FAAP, Cheif Medical Officer
Yes, it’s that time again – flu season is here! Learn how you can prepare for the flu this season in the following article.
What is the flu?
The flu (or influenza) is an extremely contagious virus that is known for causing a respiratory illness. Typically the flu has a rapid onset and may cause symptoms, such as: fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue. The flu most commonly occurs during the winter months, but “flu season” is generally considered to extend from September to March. In most cases, the flu causes a self-limited infection; meaning it will make you sick and uncomfortable, but your body will destroy the virus. However, the younger and older populations, pregnant women, or any other individuals with weakened immune systems, are considered to be “at risk” or “susceptible” populations; meaning that these patients may require medical treatment or even hospitalization in order to successfully combat the virus.
How is the flu spread?
The flu is spread from person to person via droplets from a cough, sneeze or while someone is talking. These droplets then spread to nearby people’s mouths or noses, and ultimately to their lungs where the virus replicates.
How long am I contagious if I have the flu?
Most individuals are contagious as early as one day prior to the development of symptoms and up to five to seven days after becoming ill. Keep in mind that this means you are infectious both before and while you are sick.
How can I prevent myself from getting the flu?
Well first and foremost, you should receive the flu vaccine! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the vaccine as the most important way to prevent yourself from contracting the flu. Ideally, these vaccines should be administered before the onset of flu activity in a community (usually September to October). However, the vaccine can be given at any point during the flu season – it’s never too late! So if you haven’t already received one this season, then please come in for a flu shot today.
Additionally, take preventative precautions, such as: avoiding anyone who is sick, covering your mouth while sneezing/coughing, and washing your hands with soap and water.
Who should receive the flu vaccine?
Routine seasonal flu vaccine administration is recommended for all individuals aged > 6 months who do not have contraindications. Contraindications include: individuals who are allergic to eggs (anaphylaxis) and any individuals who had severe allergic reactions to previous flu vaccines.
The vaccine is available in a variety of different formulations, and the doses and strengths are dependent upon your age and health.
So if I’m allergic to eggs, I can’t receive the flu shot?
The typical flu vaccine (Fluarix, Fluzone) is prepared using a propagation of virus in embryonated eggs. So yes, that’s correct, if you are allergic to eggs, then you are not a candidate to receive the typical flu vaccine.
However, there is a brand new flu vaccine called Flubok that is produced with cell-based technology and does not contain any egg products. This vaccine is FDA approved for adults aged > 18 years and is suitable for anyone with a history of egg allergies.
I received my flu shot last year. Why do I need it this year?
The flu virus is constantly changing in order to adapt and survive. This process is called “drift,” and involves the virus mutating to form new strains of infectious particles. Each year, experts attempt to predict, which strains of the virus to include within vaccines. This process is executed by identifying the strains of the virus that were most prevalent from the previous year. It is a challenging process, but it generally provides strong coverage against the flu. And even if it isn’t a perfect match, it has been known to lessen the severity of symptoms associated with other flu strains.
Are there any antibiotics that I can take for the flu?
No, unfortunately antibiotics will not work for the flu because the flu is a virus and not a bacteria. However, there is an anti-viral called TamiFlu (Oseltamivir) that can be given within the first 48 hours of symptom onset. TamiFlu can decrease the duration of symptoms by one to two days. This medication can help reduce the severity of the flu, and could potentially prevent hospitalizations in those individuals who have pre-existing health conditions. So if you begin to develop flu-like symptoms, then be sure to see your medical provider for evaluation because treatment is available.
Visit out Urgent Care to get your flu shot today! If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms call (845) 563-8000.