|Sick with the flu in North Carolina|
|N.C. DHHS reports 27 deaths since October|
|Published Monday, January 20, 2014|
|Dr. Trina Prather, medical director for Humana in North Carolina, is encouraging everyone to get the flu shot. She said the benefits far outweigh the risks.|
January and February are typically peak times for flu season, which occurs October through March in North Carolina.
Experts are saying that the 2013/14 season has potential to be one of the worst on record for the state. At press time, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed 27 flu-related deaths throughout the state. Nearly half (13) of these fatalities occurred in individuals between the ages of 25 and 49. Nine of the people who died from the flu were between the ages of 50 and 64, and five were 65 or older.
“We can still prevent this from being one of the worst seasons by getting the word out about the importance of people getting the flu shot,” said Dr. Trina Prather, medical director for Humana in North Carolina.
In addition to vaccinations, Prather said something as simple as proper hand washing can go a long way in protecting you and your family from getting sick this winter. She said it is also important to eat a proper diet and get plenty of sleep (eight hours a night) to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong.
However, Prather said the flu shot provides the best defense and is encouraging everyone to get the vaccine, particularly those who are over age 65 or have compromised immune systems.
Prather acknowledges that many people choose not to vaccinate against the flu. Part of the reason, she said, is erroneous information and myths that have been spread about the vaccine.
“There are people who think that you can get the flu from the flu shot, but that’s a myth” she said. “There are also people who think that you will get an allergic reaction, like a rash, and if you are allergic to eggs, you can’t get the flu shot. That’s not true… They have a new vaccine for those with serious egg allergies.”
Prather advises anyone with concerns about the vaccine to discuss those concerns with a healthcare professional and consider their risk to benefit ratio.
“You are more likely to get the flu if you don’t get the flu shot than you are to get any of the potential side effects,” she said. “Every medication, including Tylenol, has a side effect potentially, but the probability of you having liver failure from taking Tylenol is so slim verses you having a fever and setting yourself up to get any sicker.”
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the cold that makes us sick, but the tendency to stay indoors during the colder months. The closed-in space and close proximity to others create a playground for germs to grow and spread.
Prather said if you work with someone who has been sick, be sure to sanitize all shared workspaces, and if you get sick, stay home.
So how do you know if you have a case of the flu or are just suffering from a bad cold? Both illnesses have similar symptoms, but Prather said the easiest way to differentiate between the two are the body aches associated with the flu.
“And people just look bad,” she said. “It feels like you have been hit by a Mack truck.”
Other symptoms associated with the flu include fever and chills, which can be symptoms of various other illnesses. Prather said doctors rely on a nasal swab to diagnose the flu. She adds that if you are sick and stay sick for three days or more with no relief from over-the-counter medication, you should go see a doctor.
When it comes to treatment, there is no “cure” for the flu. It is a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics (which treat bacterial infections). While some medications, such as Tamiflu, can shorten the duration or lessen the severity of symptoms, the virus pretty much has to run its course. It takes some people weeks to fully recover.
Still, there is no shortage of home remedies to treat the flu – from chicken noodle soup to drinking Castor oil or “sweating it out.” However, Prather said these remedies have not been proven to have any benefit other than providing comfort. They do not fight the illness, she said.
“It works in the sense that it makes people feel better,” said Prather. “But it doesn’t really shorten the course. There really are no medications for viral illnesses, but when you are sick and miserable, whatever makes you feel better, I’m all for it.”
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