Its coming our way: the yearly influenza outbreak that creeps across the country in the winter months. Michigans first cases have already been spotted.
Jeffrey Desmond, lecturer in emergency medicine, and Marie Lozon, clinical assistant professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases and of emergency medicine, offer advice on coping with the flu.
The delays in production of the flu vaccine are over, and theres still time to get a shot and build immunity before the epidemic hits. Flu vaccinations are especially important for people age 65 and older, those who have chronic illnesses and health care workers. For more information on vaccine clinics, call Michigan Visiting Nurses (MVN), (734) 477-7252, 8 a.m.5 p.m., Mon.Fri. Businesses and organizations can schedule a clinic at their locations by calling MVN.
Washing thoroughly with soap and water reduces the chance that viruses from surfaces and other people will get into your eyes, nose or mouth, and from there into your body.
Keep children from sharing toys with others who may be sick, and clean up used tissues carefully. Also, cover your mouth when you cough.
The flu develops quickly, Desmond says, so you can be pretty sure that youve got it if you suddenly develop fever, aches, headache, sore throat, cough and chills. Most symptoms will disappear within five days, though the cough can linger longer.
Its hard for parents to know when their children have the flu, Lozon said, because kids cant always describe exactly what symptoms theyre feeling, and many other winter infections have similar symptoms. But just like in adults, the flu hits kids fast and hard. They may react by acting fussy, miserable and cranky; crying frequently; and saying they hurt all over.
Since influenza infects your respiratory, or breathing, system, you shouldnt blame the flu if you get nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms are more likely caused by gastroenteritis, another viral infection that takes hold in the digestive system. And children can get other viral infections, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), that seem similar to the flu. For more information on RSV, visit the Web at www.med.umich.edu/opm/newspage/rsv.htm.
If youre in the flus early stages, you have some newand some tried-and-trueoptions.
The new options are antiviral drugs, called Relenza and Tamiflu, that can be taken within a few days of the onset of symptoms and may shorten the time youre sick and help prevent complications. Many primary care physicians can prescribe these new drugs, which were approved for use only recently, but the therapies arent appropriate for everyone and may cause side effects.
Desmond says he cant emphasize enough the importance of drinking lots of fluids. Even though the flu may kill your appetite, its crucial to get plenty of water, sports drinks, diluted juices, herbal tea, uncaffeinated sodas and soup. Fluids help prevent the dizziness, dry mouth and decreased urination that are the marks of dehydration.
He also notes that pain relievers such as acetominophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can ease fever, aches and pains. Lozon cautions strongly that children, teens and young adults with the flu should never take aspirin, because it can increase the risk of Reyes syndrome. Lozon also recommends warmnever coldbaths or showers for children who can tolerate them.
The flus effect on your body can allow other infections to creep in, causing secondary problems, or complications. Infants, the elderly and those with existing health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, are especially vulnerable.
If symptoms are not easing after a few days, even with fever medications, hydration and other tactics, call your doctor. If you or your child has the flu and develops a change in alertness or mental status, dizziness or lightheadedness, shortness of breath, or chest pain, go to the emergency room.