It’s that time of year again, flu season is here. We all know the flu can be serious, with one of the most widespread outbreaks in recent history during the 2017-2018 season. Dr. Lissa Murphy, a board certified Emergency Medicine physician with Archbold Urgent Care in Thomasville, Georgia, encourages everyone to get the flu shot this season. She shares some flu-fighting tips to help your family get out in front of the flu this year.
Get a flu shot
Everyone over the age of six months is encouraged to get the flu vaccine beginning in September. “Those who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma or lung disease, cancer, diabetes, or renal problems, and those over the age of 65 are at the highest risk of complications and should definitely get the vaccine,” says Dr. Murphy. Even if the shot doesn’t keep you from getting sick, it will make your symptoms less severe and shorten the recovery time. According to Darria Long Gillespie, M.D., Sharecare’s Senior Vice President of Clinical Strategy and a national spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians, the flu shot will not make you sick. Flu shots are made with inactivated flu virus, which cannot give you the actual flu.
Most people experience some soreness or redness at the injection site and a very small percentage of people will get a low-grade fever with some body aches, which will last a couple of days. This should not be a reason to avoid the flu shot.
At the first sign of infection, see a doctor
If you develop a cough, runny nose, and fever with body aches suddenly, then you may have the flu. If you seek care within the first 48 hours of symptom presentation, flu medications will be effective. “Antiviral medications now available can decrease the length of the influenza illness by one to two days and decrease the risk of complications,” says Dr. Murphy. “Do not ignore symptoms that worsen or do not get better.”
Antivirals don’t kill the virus like antibiotics do for bacteria, but they can ramp up your body’s ability to fight back. It is best to see a doctor as soon as you start feeling bad. If not treated, you will be sick for 5-7 days, but you should improve after that period. “If you do not improve or you feel worse, you may be developing a complication of the flu,” says Dr. Murphy. Complications such as pneumonia could be life threatening if untreated and could require hospitalization.
Declare war on germs. Soap and hand sanitizers are your best weapons to prevent the spread of germs. The vaccine, frequent handwashing and avoiding contact with others are the most effective ways to prevent infection,” says Dr. Murphy. “Avoid crowds when possible and stay away from anyone coughing or sneezing in public. Also, use cleaning wipes on your shopping cart and even door knobs in stores.” The flu virus can live on surfaces for days.
What you need to know
According to Dr. Murphy, efforts are underway to improve the effectiveness of the vaccine. A new antiviral medication is available in Japan and is currently awaiting FDA approval. “It is one dose and appears to be every effective in treating the flu,” says Dr. Murphy. “Hopefully, it will be approved in the United States within the next year.” Flu shots are available at your primary care physician’s office and many pharmacies. Check with your physician or pharmacy and make an appointment to get your flu shot.
Lissa P. Murphy, M.D. is a board certified Emergency Medicine physician currently working at Archbold Urgent Care in Thomasville, Georgia after spending 20 years working in the Archbold Emergency Department. She completed her Emergency Medicine Residency at Shands Jacksonville in Jacksonville, Florida after attending Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Georgia.