Mind & Body
Flu Forecast 2018
10/2/2018 9:09:01 PM
Flu Season


The Centers for Disease Control Foundation estimates that each year, on average, five to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu, tens of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands die from flu-related symptoms. While flu season periods vary, the disease generally begins around October, peaks in December, and lingers through late winter and sometimes into early spring. So, now’s the time to gather your arsenal of weapons to battle this bane of otherwise healthy people. A good place to start is here with our Flu Forecast. In this special section, you’ll read about how to avoid the flu in public spaces such as the workplace, differentiating cold vs. flu, and debunked flu myths.

Beware the Office Bug
by Kristy Como Armand

Every year, you apprehensively monitor your workplace as colds and flu migrate from co-worker to co-worker, hoping you’re not the next stop on this year’s snifflin’, sneezin’ express. It often seems like an exercise in futility, as you end up getting sick anyway.

Is it inevitable? It doesn’t need to be, according to Jason Burklow, MD, family medicine specialist with Imperial Health. "While it’s possible that you could have a weak immune system, it’s much more likely that you and your coworkers are guilty of some bad habits that are providing an environment conducive to the spread of seasonal viruses.”  

Before you can begin to understand how to avoid the office bug, you need to "know your enemy” when it comes to cold and flu season germs. "Cold viruses are present throughout the year, but the number rises as the weather cools,” explains Dr. Burklow. "Colder, dryer air drains the normal amount of mucus we carry in our nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to attach to the tissues in your nose. People also spend more time indoors during the winter months, increasing the chances of contact with someone who is sick.” 

The workplace seems to be a particularly vulnerable site for the spread of contagious viruses, due in large part to the growing trend of sick workers feeling like they can’t call in sick. Research by the Geisinger Center for Health Research has estimated that presenteeism – when sick employees show up for work – costs U.S. businesses $150 billion per year. In addition, 87% of those employees usually have illnesses like colds or the flu.

Just how easily can a cold spread? If you’re one of those types who tries desperately to avoid sitting next to a sniffling, coughing coworker during a meeting, you’re ahead of the game. "If you had X-ray vision,” Dr. Burklow says, "you would see a cloud of viruses around a person with a cold. Every time they exhale, respiratory viruses come out, extending about three feet from the infected person.”

But that’s not the only way you could catch a cold virus. People infected with rhinovirus, the cause of half of all colds, can contaminate common objects, such as light switches, elevator buttons, keyboards, door knobs, and other surfaces, which can infect others. "Even worse, the day before you actually notice your cold symptoms, you’re already contagious,” says Dr. Burklow.  

While it may sound like you should just resign yourself to getting the office bug each year, Dr. Burklow says there are some very effective steps you can take in the workplace to minimize your exposure. "The most important advice is the simplest: wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Most organisms are more easily transmitted through hand contact than sneezes. Once you come into contact with a virus, if you rub your nose or your eyes, or touch your mouth, you’re probably going to ‘get’ whatever you were exposed to. Try to avoid touching your face frequently during the day, and if you can’t wash your hands, an alcohol-based gel is a good back-up.”  

All the products advertised for boosting your immunity during cold and flu season probably won’t make you resistant to the office bug. Dr. Burklow says most doctors agree there is not enough evidence to recommend taking mega-doses of vitamin C or Echinacea to prevent seasonal cold and flu viruses. "A strong immune system can help you, but the best way to boost your natural immunity is to take a good multivitamin and work on giving your body the resources it needs to resist illness, including a healthy diet, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep. Remember, your immunity is basically a function of how healthy you are overall.”

Curing Flu Myths 
by Kristy Como Armand

In ancient times, people believed many events of their lives, including epidemics, were governed by the influence of the stars. That’s actually the origin of the word "influenza,” more commonly called just "the flu” today.  And while most people chuckle when they hear this theory today, other myths about the flu are still all too prevalent.  

"Misinformation about the flu seems to spread more quickly than the virus itself,” says Kenneth Thomas, MD, family medicine physician with The Cypress Clinic and medical staff member of West Calcasieu Cameron Hospital. "Most of these myths are based on faulty facts or only a partial understanding of factual information.”

As we approach flu season, which typically begins in late fall and lasts through early spring, we asked Dr. Thomas to provide the facts to address some of the most common flu myths.

Myth: The flu vaccine can give you the flu.
FACT: The most common and dangerous myth about the flu is that you can get it from the flu shot, according to Dr. Thomas. "This fear keeps many people, including some at high-risk for flu complications, from taking advantage of one of the most effective illness prevention tools we have. The flu vaccine is made with inactivated organisms, so you cannot get the flu from it.”

Myth: Only the elderly need to get vaccinated for the flu. 
FACT: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends "universal” flu vaccination in the U.S., which means that an annual flu vaccine is advised for everyone six months and older to expand protection against the flu to more people. Dr. Thomas says there may be some rare exceptions for certain types of medical conditions. "If you have a concern, you should check with your doctor before getting a flu shot.” 

Myth: By January, it’s too late to get the vaccine.
FACT: It takes about two weeks for your body to make protective influenza antibodies. According to the CDC, the best time to get vaccinated is October or November, but getting the vaccine in December or later in the flu season will still protect you against the flu.

Myth: If you go outside in cold, wet weather, you’ll catch a cold or the flu.
FACT: The flu is more common in the winter because this is the time of year that viruses spread most quickly. Dr. Thomas says it has nothing to do with the weather or climate but is the result of people being more confined in close proximity during the winter months, which makes it easier for the viruses to spread.

Myth: Getting vaccinated guarantees protection from the flu.
FACT: The influenza vaccine’s effectiveness varies each year and depends on two things: the CDC’s prediction and the strength of a person’s immune system. The CDC predicts what strains will cause the next year’s outbreak. All vaccines give some immunity to related strains, so even if you do catch the flu after getting the shot, your illness is likely to be much less severe. 

Myth: There is no way for doctors to accurately diagnose the flu.  
FACT: There is. The nasal swab test is the most accurate way to diagnose the flu.

Myth: Take antibiotics to fight the flu.
FACT: Dr. Thomas explains that antibiotics are not effective against viruses like influenza, so there is no need to take them. 

Myth: There’s no treatment for the flu except rest, fever medications and lots of liquids.
FACT: These may help relive flu symptoms, but newer antiviral medications are now available if treatment begins early. Dr. Thomas says many people are unaware of antivirals, which can help minimize symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu in most cases if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. 

Dr. Thomas says this year’s flu vaccine is already widely available in Southwest Louisiana. "So unless you have a really good reason for not getting it, such as an allergy or pre-existing medical condition, you should seriously consider taking advantage of this simple, highly effective preventive tool.”

Is it the Cold, or Is it the Flu? 
by Kristy Como Armand

Sneezing, coughing, chills and aches . . . It’s just about that time of year when these symptoms become all too common. Many facts on colds and flu are published each winter, but most people still don’t know the difference between the two.   

According to family medicine physician Jason Morris, MD, with Imperial Health Urgent Care in Moss Bluff, it can be difficult to determine what your symptoms mean, but there are a few key indicators. "Although colds and flu are similar in many ways, flu can lead to more serious, life-threatening problems, like pneumonia and other additional complications for those in high risk groups.”

Dr. Morris says a stuffy nose, sore throat and sneezing are often signs of a cold, whereas fatigue, fever, headache and major body aches and pain often indicate flu. "Coughs can occur with either, but a harsh cough is more likely to accompany the flu. One key indicator is that most people can function fairly normally with a cold, but their daily activities will be difficult with the flu.”

And although you feel miserable and desperately want a quick cure, Dr. Morris says it is not necessary to see your doctor about a cold or flu unless there is a particular reason to do so, unless your symptoms worsen or you are in a high-risk group. "Many people mistakenly think they need a prescription for antibiotics, but these can’t help with cold and flu. Antibiotics only kill bacteria, and colds and flu are both caused by viruses.”  

In most cases, individuals can treat themselves by treating the symptoms of the virus. Dr. Morris recommends plenty of bed rest, warm liquids, and aspirin or an aspirin substitute to relieve headache and muscle aches. "You can take a mild cough medicine and use hot steam or over-the-counter decongestants to relieve congestion. Be sure to use an aspirin substitute for children under the age of sixteen. If you aren’t sure which over-the-counter medications to take for your symptoms, check with a doctor.”

In the past few years, several new prescription medications to treat the flu have been introduced. Dr. Morris explains that these antivirals can shorten the duration and severity of the flu by actively attacking the flu virus. "However, in order to be effective, antiviral medications must be used within the first 12-48 hours of onset of flu symptoms, which can be difficult if you mistake these symptoms for a cold. If you feel your symptoms are caused by the flu, or if you have been directly exposed to the flu, see your doctor immediately, and you may be able to derail the worst of the flu symptoms.”

Dr. Morris says most people recover from a cold in a few days, and from the flu in seven to 10 days. "But if your symptoms get worse, instead of better, call your doctor, or see a doctor.” He adds that you should also call your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms in conjunction with your illness: 
  • Difficulty breathing or chest pain 
  • Persistent Fever 
  • Vomiting or Inability to Keep Fluids Down 
  • Painful Swallowing 
  • Persistent Coughing 
  • Persistent Congestion and Headaches 
For more information or to see a doctor for your cold or flu symptoms, call Imperial Health Urgent Care in Moss Bluff at (337) 217-7762 or walk-in at 277 N. Hwy. 171, Suite 10.
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