As fall settles in, so does the flu season.
The myriad of advertisements and signs for the flu shot should not be ignored. The influenza virus causes a contagious respiratory illness that can lead to a range of symptoms. For many, the flu is about a week of cough, congestion, muscle pains and fevers. For others, especially the elderly and young children, the flu can mean severe symptoms that lead to hospitalization and even death.
The flu virus spreads quickly and efficiently. The virus spreads through small droplets in the air that are created when infected people cough, sneeze, or even talk. You may not even realize you are spreading the virus because the virus can replicate a day before you are sick and up to seven days after feeling sick.
The greatest treatment has always been prevention. Steps to avoid the virus, such as limiting contact with sick people, covering your coughs and sneezes, and hand washing are essential.
Vaccinations are another important way to prevent infection. The flu virus comes in various strains that mutate and change every year.  
Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tries to determine which strains will likely emerge the following year. This leads to new vaccines every year that help reduce the number of severe illnesses.
By getting our annual vaccinations, we increase our chances of not getting sick. Vaccines can take two weeks to become effective, so getting your shot early is best. The vaccines are especially important for people who have a weakened immune system. This includes people who are old or very young, and those with diabetes, COPD, asthma, AIDS, cancer and sickle cell anemia.
Based on your condition, special vaccinations may be required. In cases of pregnancy, egg allergies and immunocompromised health, a discussion with a healthcare provider would help determine the safest way to get your vaccination.
If you notice symptoms or think you may have been exposed, there are also antiviral medications that can help slow or prevent the viral infection. As these medications work best when treatment is started early, it is important to let your healthcare provider know about your symptoms right away.

Dr. Mehul Suthar is an internal medicine physician with Baptist Health Medical Group Primary Care in Richmond.
Courtesy of KyForward

Posted on 2015-10-14 by Dr. Mehul Suthar