‘Tis the Season… for Fighting Cold & Flu

November 14, 2011

Flu season, which lasts from October to May, is already well under way, and it’s likely you’ve been exposed to the virus in more ways than one by now. Read on for all the information you’ll need to protect yourself and your loved ones from this all too common illness.

Life-Threatening Complications Are the True Concern

An average of 23,000 Americans die each year from flu and its complications, and 90 percent of those are over the age of 65. The elderly also make up roughly 60 percent of the more than 200,000 flu-related hospitalizations each year in the US.

“In most healthy people, flu is a relatively short-term illness that will run its course and leave no lasting effects,” explained Floyd Memorial Urgent Care Center general medicine physician Amy Hallal Henderson, MD. “However, certain populations are at risk of complications that can be severe and even life-threatening, which is why we in the medical community strongly encourage vaccination.”

Amy Hallal Henderson
“All persons aged six months and older should receive influenza vaccination annually. This is the recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) since February 2010.”

Amy Hallal Henderson, MD

General Medicine Physician
Floyd Memorial Urgent Care Center- Charlestown Road

Those at high risk of developing complications, which can range from dehydration to more serious conditions such as pneumonia or respiratory distress, include:

  • Adults age 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • Young children
  • Individuals with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease
  • Individuals with weakened immune systems
  • Individuals living in long-term care facilities such as a nursing home.

Vaccination

Dr. Hallal Henderson elaborated on the types of flu vaccination available today. “There are two broad categories of flu vaccines: live attenuated virus and “killed” virus. A common myth is that the flu vaccine actually could give recipients the flu illness. It’s important that people know that this is not true. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. There are some side effects that can occur that may mimic the flu, including low-grade fever, body aches and nausea. It takes two weeks after vaccination for the body to fully develop an immune response against the flu.”

She continued, “Live, attenuated virus is used in the Flumist® intranasal spray flu vaccine, which is approved for healthy, non-pregnant persons ranging from 2-49 years old. It is very popular with children and adults who are uncomfortable with needles. Attenuated virus is manufactured using a process to weaken but not totally disrupt the viral particles, and can therefore potentially cause mild, cold-like symptoms to occur, but will not actually give patients the flu. The injected forms of flu vaccine consist of inactivated or killed viruses which have been made noninfectious.”

Types of flu vaccine available today include:

  • Shot-based “killed” virus vaccination:
    • Intra-muscular–the most common type of flu vaccine, administered into the muscle and acceptable for all ages above 6 months.
    • Intra-dermal–the newest vaccine on the market (approved in 2011), administered with a smaller needle just under the skin, approved for ages 18-64 years.
    • High-potency–approved in 2010 for ages 65 and older, administered into the muscle.
  • Nasal spray live attenuated virus vaccination: Also known as “Flumist®,” approved for healthy, non-pregnant individuals aged 2-49 years.

Prevention Strategies

“Like they say in sports, the best defense is a good offense, especially when it comes to highly communicable viruses such as cold and flu,” explained Dr. Hallal Henderson. “First and foremost is the importance of maintaining a healthy immune system that will fight the infection when it first presents itself. This is accomplished through regular exercise, drinking plenty of water, eating lots of antioxidant-rich fresh fruits and vegetables, getting plenty of rest and not smoking or drinking excessively. Next is frequent hand washing or sanitizing with an alcohol-based gel to prevent germ transmission.”

“It’s important to remember that prevention is not just about taking the necessary steps to not become sick, it’s also about protecting others should you become ill yourself. Always practice proper coughing and sneezing hygiene by using a tissue, or coughing or sneezing into your sleeve or the crook of your elbow. Cold and flu typically have an infectious period of one day before the onset of symptoms to five to seven days after onset, meaning that if you feel symptoms coming on, you should use caution if you must be in close contact with others during that time period.”

Treatment

Cold and flu are both viral infections, which means antibiotic medications, which combat infections caused by bacteria only, are not effective treatments. “Unfortunately when it comes to virus-based illnesses such as cold and flu, we usually must strive to manage the symptoms and try to help make the patient more comfortable until the virus passes. This can be done with over-the-counter or prescription decongestants, cough suppressants, pain relievers or fever reducers. There are also some antiviral medications which have been shown to shorten the duration of the flu symptoms, and may prevent some complications,” explained Dr. Hallal Henderson.

“Ultimately though, the virus has to run its course. In fact, trying to treat a viral infection with an antibiotic can be harmful because it increases the person’s resistance to that treatment, making it less likely to be effective when a bacterial infection actually does come along. We call this antibiotic resistance.”

If You Need Immediate Care…

When experiencing flu-like symptoms, it’s always best to contact your primary care physician first and follow their recommendation for care. However, if you find yourself in need of immediate attention and are unable to see your primary care provider, Floyd Memorial offers two convenient Urgent Care Center locations in New Albany and Floyds Knobs that provide medical care on a walk-in basis.

Urgent Care Center — Highlander Point
800 Highlander Point
Floyds Knobs, IN 47119
(812) 923-6336
Hours: Monday-Friday: 9am-8pm
Weekends/Holidays: 9am-5pm

Urgent Care Center — Charlestown Road
5130 Charlestown Road, Suite 2 (near County Line Road)
New Albany, IN 47150
(812) 949-1577
Hours: Monday-Friday: 8am-8pm
Weekends/Holidays: 9am-5pm

Both centers are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.