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What To Expect If You Get The Flu

One of my dear friends just came down with influenza, and she asked me for some advice. Top of mind questions included – When can I go back to work? And when will I get better? So in a nutshell, here’s what I told her (borrowing heavily from the CDC website):

  1. The most common flu symptoms are: Fever or feeling feverish/chills; Cough; Sore throat; Runny or stuffy nose; Muscle or body aches; Headaches; Fatigue (feeling very tired)
  2. Adults shed influenza virus from the day before symptoms begin through 5—10 days after illness onset. However, the amount of virus shed, and presumably infectivity, decreases rapidly by 3—5 days after onset.
  3. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
  4. Uncomplicated influenza illness typically resolves after 3—7 days for the majority of persons, although cough and malaise can persist for >2 weeks.
  5. The 2011–12 U.S. seasonal influenza vaccine virus strains are identical to those contained in the 2010–11 vaccine. Annual vaccination is recommended even for those who received the vaccine for the previous season. Vaccination is the most effective prevention strategy available to reduce your risk of catching the flu.
My suggestions: Don’t go in to work (if you have the option) until 5 days after illness onset. If you go in earlier, you can wear a little face mask (and use Purell or other alcohol-based hand sanitizer) to prevent spread of the virus. Next year, get your flu shot early in the season.
As far as treatment is concerned, the Mayo Clinic recommends: LIQUIDS, REST, and TYLENOL or IBUPROFEN for pain. No vitamins or supplements have been shown to shorten the course of the flu.
P.S. My suggestions are relevant for “garden variety” flu sufferers. If you are immuno-compromised, elderly, or otherwise in a high risk category, please check out the CDC website for more information.

Influenza: It’s Not “Just The Flu”

One of our readers suggested that I review the book The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by John M. Barry. It’s not a new book (it was published in 2004) but it is very pertinent to several of the issues that we have been discussing on this blog, especially in regards to the current anti-vaccine movement. It’s well worth reading for its historical insights, for its illumination of the scientific method, and for its accurate reporting of what science has learned about influenza.

In the great flu epidemic of 1918, influenza killed as many people in 24 weeks as AIDS has killed in 24 years. It’s hard to even imagine what that must have been like, but this book helps us imagine it. It tells horror stories: Children found alone and starving beside the corpses of their parents in homes where all the adults had died, decomposing bodies piling up because there was no one left who was healthy enough to bury them.

Sometimes the disease developed with stunning rapidity: During one three-mile streetcar trip, the conductor, three passengers, and the driver died. In another incident, apparently healthy soldiers were being transferred to a new post by train: During the trip, men started coughing, bleeding, and collapsing; and by the time it arrived at its destination, 25 percent of the soldiers were so sick they had to be taken directly from train to hospital. Two-thirds of them were eventually hospitalized in all, and 10 percent of them died. The mind boggles. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

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