With summer over and school back in session, an inevitable flu season looms just ahead. Dr. Karen Benedum, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at LECOM at Seton Hill in Greensburg, PA, answers commonly asked questions about the flu, to help keep your family healthy this fall and winter.
First, what is the flu and what are the symptoms?
“Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses,” explains Dr. Benedum.
According to Dr. Benedum, common symptoms associated with the flu include:
• Fever (though not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
• Sore throat
• Sinus congestion
• Muscle aches
“Vomiting and diarrhea can also be symptoms, but these are more common in children than adults,” she adds.
How does the flu spread?
A highly contagious virus, most experts believe that flu viruses spread when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk.
“Droplets containing the virus can land on the mouths or noses of people who are nearby,” says Dr. Benedum. “It is also possible to get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.”
One of the most dangerous things about the flu, she adds, is that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you even know you are sick.
How serious is the flu?
“While most people only experience a mild illness and recover in less than two weeks, some people suffer significant health complications, like pneumonia, bronchitis or sinus infections that can become quite serious,” explains Dr. Benedum.
People who are most at risk for experiencing these complications include older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, like asthma, chronic lung disease, neurological conditions, heart disease, and other disorders and illnesses that can be worsened by the flu.
If I don’t fall into one of these categories, does that mean I shouldn’t worry too much about contracting the flu this upcoming season?
“You may not fall into a high risk category for contracting the flu, but everyone is susceptible to the influenza virus, especially new strains,” says Dr. Benedum.
A new and very different flu virus appeared during the 2009-2010 flu season, known as the 2009 H1N1 virus.
“Unlike the typical influenza virus, this virus caused serious health problems in people younger than 65 people who are normally at low risk.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, these 2009 H1N1 viruses will likely resurface this year, along with new seasonal viruses.
How can I protect myself from the 2009 H1N1 virus and the new seasonal flu viruses?
“While you can do your best to rid your body of germs and avoid contact with people who have the flu, the best defense against the flu virus is to get a yearly vaccination,” says Dr. Benedum.
Flu vaccination typically begins in September and continues throughout the flu season, which can last as late as May.
I haven’t gotten a flu vaccination in the past and I’ve been fine. Do I really need to get one?
“Yes, everyone over six months old should get a flu vaccination this year,” stresses Dr. Benedum.
“Like all vaccinations, influenza vaccines receive extensive scientific testing to guarantee both their safety and effectiveness. Vaccination hinders the viruses from spreading and causing flu epidemics exactly what happened last year with the 2009 H1N1 virus,” she adds.
Dr. Benedum also points out that vaccination not only protects you, it also protects the people around you, who may not be able to get a vaccination.
Who should not get an influenza vaccination?
“People who have a severe allergy to eggs; have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past; children younger than six months of age; and people who have developed Guillian-Barré syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously, should all consult with a physician beforehand,” says Dr. Benedum.
“Also, if you are sick and have a fever, you should wait to get vaccinated until your symptoms subside,” she adds.
“An influenza vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and the people that come in contact with you this flu season,” concludes Dr. Benedum. “If you are unsure of whether you should get a flu vaccine, consult with your physician.”
Preventive medicine is just one aspect of care osteopathic physicians (DOs) who graduate from LECOM provide. DOs are fully licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all specialty areas, including surgery. DOs are trained to consider the health of the whole person and use their hands to help diagnose and treat their patients.
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