So you got the influenza(flu) vaccine and you still got the flu! You are not alone. Millions of your fellow Americans are dealing with variations of fever, chills, headaches, runny nose, cough, and muscle aches. Right now we are seeing a significant rise in a version of the influenza virus called H3N2. The vaccine this year has been less effective against this strain than we would have liked it to be. Estimates say it is around 30% effective for preventing this H3N2 strain.
No. It is worth getting the vaccine. Even though the vaccine is not highly effective against the current strain, 30% is better than nothing. Plus, we are still early in the flu season which will likely run for a few more months. Other strains of the virus are more likely to be prevented by the vaccine than this current strain. So this current vaccine may still keep you from getting sick later. The vaccine may also make your current symptoms less severe if you get the flu anyway compared to the severity if you did not receive the vaccine. If you have not had a flu shot this year, it is still recommended that you get one.
Getting the flu stinks. It drains your energy, it hurts, and makes you irritable and miserable. In more severe cases, it can lead to major lung issues and even death. This year has been particularly hard with more people needing to be hospitalized and more people dying compared to prior years.
For the average person with a normal ability to handle infections, the risk of serious problems is relatively low. Fighting the flu generally involves treating the various symptoms. Below are some recommendations in dealing with the flu:
Yes. There are a few medications available by prescription only that are anti-viral medications and can help both decrease the severity of the symptoms and how long you are sick for. Most research suggests that this effect is relatively mild for the average person suffering from influenza and they are most effective if started within 2 days from the beginning of flu symptoms. Additionally, there are concerns over resistance of the viruses to this medication which has led to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other medical organizations weighing the risks and benefits of using this medication.
The general agreement is that these medications should only be used for those that are at high risk for developing complications from influenza. According to the CDC, the following groups of people are considered higher risk:
So if you are in one of these higher-risk categories and develop flu-like symptoms, it is recommended you get a medical evaluation within 2 days from the beginning of the illness and preferably within the first 24 hours.
If you get it, avoid spreading it. The CDC recommends that you stay home with the flu until your fever is gone for at least 24 hours without any fever-reducing medications. Limit your contact with others and cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze. Use tissues instead of your hands and get rid of those tissues. Your hands should be washed with soap and water after touching your face or any possibly contaminated surface. That surface should also be cleaned with a disinfectant.
So this flu season, use this guide to educate yourself on some of the many options to help your body help itself. Most people do well but some develop significant problems. If you are in a high risk category, get yourself checked within 2 days. If over the counter medications are doing nothing or there is a concern there might be some complication developing, get seen either in-person or through a telemedicine video visit to determine if prescription medications are needed or more intensive treatment is necessary.
Of course if you are having any issues that you feel may be an emergency, particularly passing out, difficulty breathing, chest pain or pressure, fever >100.4F lasting more than 3 days, get somewhat better and then immediately ill again, inability to keep down any fluids, or any other concerning symptoms...please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.
Stay Healthy and Care On!