Family Medicine Residency Program
Published Articles by CMH Residents
Complications Can Arise During Course Of Flu
By Dr. Achamma Itticheria, CMH Regional Health System
Fever, headache, sore throat, runny / stuffy nose, body aches, tiredness and fatigue. Does any of this sound familiar? Almost anyone you know should know someone who has felt like this at one time or another. These are just a few of the symptoms seen with what is known as the influenza virus - otherwise know as the flu.
According to the Center for Disease Control, every year, most commonly during the winter and fall, 5% to 20% of the US population gets the flu, 200,000 people are hospitalized each year due to complications of the flu, and 36,000 people die each year from the flu and its complications.
My point is, as simple as the flu may sound itís really not, and careful consideration should be taken with regards to getting vaccinated for the influenza virus. This is definitely recommended for those individuals who are more prone to the virus or its complications.
Most individuals donít realize that the flu can be very dangerous especially for a few particular groups of individuals. These groups pertain to those between the ages of 6 months and 5 years of age, those individuals who are 65 years old and above, pregnant females, those with chronic medical conditions, and anyone who lives in a nursing home. Other groups would be anyone who cares for high-risk patients at home and healthcare workers. All in all, everyone is vulnerable to the influenza virus and therefore people should consider the option of taking the flu vaccine in the fall of every year.
So why is the flu so dangerous or deadly? For the most part it is dangerous because of the complications that can arise during the course of the illness. Examples of secondary complications are bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and the worsening of some chronic conditions such as Congestive heart failure, diabetes and or asthma.
One thing to consider when it comes to preventing the flu is what can be done on a day to day basis. The flu is transmitted via person to person and through the air, thus daily good hygiene is essential to preventing illness. Yet however cautious we are, it is not a guarantee for prevention.
Other precautions are as follows; avoid contact with sick individuals, always use tissues when coughing or sneezing, wash hands often because anything that is touched by an ill person may carry the virus, and keep things away from the eyes, nose and mouth.
Most importantly, if you are sick, then avoid exposure to places that have large groups of people such as the workplace, schools and other such institutions. What most people are unaware of is that the flu is contagious one day prior to the presentation of any obvious symptoms and up to five days into the course of the flu.
Another form of prevention is the flu vaccination. One thing to keep in mind is the vaccination does not always prevent illness per se, but it also helps in decreasing the severity of the symptoms.
The vaccination comes in the form of an injection and nasal spray. It is most often given intramuscularly, but the nasal spray, which is a live virus, can also be given to healthy individuals between the ages of 5 and 49 years of age and healthy individuals taking care of high-risk groups. It must be emphasized however that because the nasal spray form has live virus in it, it is neither safe nor recommended for pregnant women and should be avoided.
There are some individuals who should avoid the vaccine and they are as follows; anyone who is allergic to eggs, anyone who has had a severe reaction to the vaccination in the past, anyone who has developed Gillian Barre Syndrome within six weeks of getting the vaccination, infants less than six months and anyone who is severely ill with current fever.
Regardless of whether a person is vaccinated or not, there is still a chance one could get the flu. So what is the best way to deal with it? Basically one should keep well hydrated with plenty of oral fluids, avoid alcohol and smoking because it dehydrates the body, take Tylenol for fevers or muscle aches if tolerated and get plenty of rest. The course usually lasts 5 to 7 days. Aspirin should be avoided in children and teens that have flu like symptoms because it can cause a dangerous reaction.
No one likes getting the flu but itís a reality that occurs every fall and winter season. Prevention through good hygiene and vaccination should be considered for those most prone to it and even those who just want to decrease the risk of getting it at all.
Dr. Itticheria is a second year resident physician in the CMH Family Medicine Residency Program. Healthy Outlook, a periodic offering of CMH, includes information from several resources including the writerís professional experience.