Posted Thursday, January 17, 2013
Selim Suner, MD
Selim Suner, MD, emergency medicine physician at Rhode Island Hospital, offers insight in the recent flu epidemic and what you can do to protect yourself.
What is the difference between the flu and a bad cold?
Most of the time there's not much difference. Influenza, however, is usually associated with longer, and often more severe, symptoms and has the potential of causing severe illness in patients with compromised immune systems, the elderly and very young children. Some strains of influenza can also cause a severe heightened immune response in healthy patients leading to severe complications.
Can I get the flu if I've received the flu shot?
Yes. Although the flu shot this year is well matched to the strain of flu causing the recent epidemic, it is still only effective in 2/3 of patients getting the flu. However, those who get the flu, despite having been vaccinated, report a milder course of illness.
If I think I have the flu, should I go to my doctor, the hospital, toughen up and go to work, or stay home?
This depends. If you have a co-morbid illness such as severe heart or lung disease or have a compromised immune system, then getting checked out by your primary care physician is appropriate. If you work in a cubicle, away from people, going to work may be an option. But if you work in close proximity to people, work with the elderly, children, patients, etc., please stay home.
What can I do to feel better?
Get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, drink tea with honey, take antihistamines, and if early enough, the medication oseltamivir (Tamiflu) may help, but this is only available by prescription.
What can I do to protect myself against getting the flu?
Wash your hands, stay six feet away from people who have a cough or sneeze, eat healthy and exercise. Above all else, wash your hands as often as possible.
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