Flatten the flu

Heather Lalley Staff writer

The coughing, aching, wheezing, sneezing, fever-fueled misery won’t be in full swing for a couple of months. But now’s the time to do something about it.

Help comes in the form of a needle and two little words: flu shot.

The last week of October, and into November, is prime time to get vaccinated, especially if you fall into any of the high-risk groups.

That includes: those 65 and older; those with chronic conditions like heart disease, asthma, cancer and AIDS; women past their first trimester of pregnancy; and, under a new CDC recommendation this year, children as young as 6 months old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging parents to have their children ages 6-23 months vaccinated this year, since that group is at particularly high risk of flu-related hospitalization.

People who could give the flu to those at risk — like health care workers or other caregivers — should also plan to get a shot.

Children receiving their first flu vaccination will need two shots, a month apart, to boost the effectiveness of the first dose.

Unlike previous years, there is no anticipated shortage of flu vaccine. That means otherwise healthy folks, who don’t fall into these high-risk groups, might want to think of rolling up their sleeves for a shot.

“People with the flu, they feel like they’ve been hit by a truck,” Rockwood Clinic pediatrician Dr. Stephen Luber says. “You have fever, chills, a lot of achy pain, and you just feel sick.”

But can’t a flu shot give you the flu?

No, doctors say.

The vaccine is made from killed influenza viruses and can’t infect you.

You may get a sore arm, though.

If you get sick a day after getting your flu shot, it probably means the crud was already multiplying in your system.

“All febrile (fever-causing) illness is not the flu,” Luber says. “Flu shots generally don’t cause you to get sick.”

But the flu isn’t so bad, is it? It’s really like a bad cold, right?

Nope, again.

The flu sends more than 100,000 people to the hospital each year in the United States, according to the CDC. About 20,000 people die from it.

Since influenza is a disease of the lungs, it can lead to pneumonia.

The doctor can just give me some antibiotics and fix it, right?

Wrong, again. And don’t argue with your doctor about this one.

Flus and colds are caused by viruses; they don’t respond to antibiotics. And overuse of antibiotics can just make things worse, generating strains of superbugs that can become drug-resistant.

“People are accustomed to getting some kind of treatment with modern medicine,” says Dr. Robert McFarland, a family doctor in Coeur d’Alene.

What about the stomach flu?

There’s no such thing. Influenza is a respiratory illness. Symptoms like nausea, diarrhea and vomiting are rare with the flu, except in very young children.

If you’re suffering from those symptoms (and it’s a shame if you are), it’s probably gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines. Check with your doctor, though, to be sure.

Is there anything to do if I feel the flu coming on? How about if someone in my house has it, how can I avoid it?

Yes, a couple of fairly new drugs (which went through clinical testing at Rockwood) might be able to help.

Tamiflu (a capsule) and Relenza (an inhaler) can shorten the course of the flu if taken within the first two days of onset.

Those living in the same house with an infected person can also take the drugs to prevent catching the virus. But you must act quickly. Don’t wait a few days to see the doctor, or you’ll be out of luck.

The flu, with its sudden onset, will make it easy on you.

While a cold might begin slowly, with a little throat tickle or a few sneezes, the flu announces itself all at once, like uninvited relatives landing on your doorstep.

“If you can name the minute you got it,” then that’s the flu, McFarland says.

These sidebars appeared with the story:

Bad bugs

Is it the flu or a cold?

So, is it the cold or the flu? Here are some clues to help you figure out which bug you’ve got:

Fever: Rare with cold (except in infants and small children); 102- 104 degrees with flu, lasting three to four days

Headache: Rare with cold; sudden, severe with flu

Muscle aches: Mild with cold; severe with flu

Tiredness and weakness: Mild with cold; can last more than two weeks with flu

Extreme exhaustion: Never with cold; sudden and severe with flu

Runny nose: Often with cold; sometimes with flu

Sneezing: Often with cold; sometimes with flu

Sore throat: Often with cold; sometimes with flu

Cough: Mild with cold; can become severe with flu

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

WHERE TO GO

Shots available

Starting Wednesday , flu shots will be offered to the general public for $12 through the Spokane Regional Health District’s clinics in Spokane and the Valley. They’ll be offered at the health district’s main clinic, 1101 W. College, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays. The office is closed on Mondays.

The shots will be available at Spokane Valley Community Center, 10814 E. Broadway, on Mondays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. Call the district’s Flu Hotline at (509) 324-1643 for more information.

Flu shots also will be available for $12 at the Panhandle Health District, 2195 Ironwood Court, in Coeur d’Alene on Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. They’ll continue on Fridays through November from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, or to make an appointment for a reduced fee shot for a highrisk child, call (208) 667-3481.

Copyright 2002 Cowles Publishing Company

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