How to fight the flu
Dr. William J. Fisher is a board certified pediatrician with Community Physician Network. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Fisher, visit his physician profile.
Currently, Indianapolis is having a very large outbreak of influenza. The outbreak started about one month ago and has been spreading quickly.
Patients have had a ton of questions about the current outbreak, what to do about it and why the shot is not as protective as in the past. I thought this would be a good time to address these questions.
The outbreak of flu is mostly caused by Influenza A - H3N2, one of the four strains of flu virus that is found in the flu vaccinations. This year the type of H3N2 predicted to come through North America mutated into a different type of H3N2 that is not in the vaccine.
Since the flu vaccine is made in the spring and summer the best prediction of the next winter's virus is not always correct, which is an inevitable weakness of our current type of flu vaccine.
Was the vaccine worth getting? If I had the flu should I still get the vaccine?
It is important to remember this is the first wave of flu this year, but most years have two to three waves of different flu strains per season. Just because the flu vaccine is not covering H3N2 well does not mean it will not cover the other type of influenza A, or two types of Influenza B in the vaccine. It is possible it will be a perfect match for those strains!
Also, in the office we have seen hundreds of kids with flu, but the children who have been vaccinated (including my own nine-year-old) have, on average, appeared much less sick and more alert, with less complications. Even though they got the flu, they may have had some partial protection from the shot that is helping them get over the illness quicker. Also, just because it didn't work for one member of the family, doesn't mean it will not work for other members.
When should I tell my doctor I am sick?
In general, the flu starts abruptly (unlike a cold) and has high fever, chills, muscle ache, fatigue, headache, sore throat, and cough. If these symptoms start very quickly and seem worse than a typical cold, this time of year, it is probably the flu.
Flu can be treated by Tamiflu, but the medication works best if started in the first one to three days of the illness. Letting your doctor know early may help you get treated quickly and decrease your odds of complications from the flu. Babies, pregnant women, asthmatics, people with chronic health conditions, smokers, and the elderly should be seen by their physician, but other older children and adults may be able to be treated over the phone.
When should I worry my illness/my child's illness is worse than normal?
Flu can be deadly. If the fever goes longer than three to four days, or if there is difficulty breathing you should be seen immediately.
Also, it is very important to watch for dehydration because the fatigue, increased sweating, fever, and rapid breathing can lead quickly to fluid loss. Even if a person with flu doesn't want to eat it is crucial they drink enough to urinate at least six times every 24 hours.
What can I do not to get the flu?
Obviously, the first thing to do is get vaccinated, but the vaccine takes two weeks to kick in and doesn't always work. Hand washing and hand sanitizer are critical, as well as staying away from people with flu.
The reality is that the vast majority of people will be exposed to flu this winter, and the best thing you can do to protect your loved ones is vaccinate your family and stay home and away from others if you have a fever or symptoms of the flu. It is not worth putting people at risk to get a silly "perfect attendance" award at school or work!