Doctors offer tips for staying healthy through flu season

By: Julie Snyder | Mount Clemens - Clinton - Harrison Journal | Published December 23, 2015


MOUNT CLEMENS — Local medical experts say the flu wreaked havoc in Macomb County last season, affecting thousands and sending many to the hospital, flooding local emergency rooms.

The key to staying healthy this flu season is being keen to the symptoms and avoiding spreading the infection.

Registered nurse Kellee Necaise, infection prevention coordinator at McLaren Macomb Hospital, is an expert in the practice of preventing the infection and spread of communicable diseases, which especially includes the flu.

She said a yearly flu vaccine is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for everyone 6 months and older. It is also recommended that they receive it as soon as it is available to ensure that the vaccine is at its full potency and effectiveness when the season is in full swing.

Necaise recommends that people keep an eye out for flu symptoms, not only in themselves, but in those around them. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue.

If sick, limit time with others to prevent them from becoming ill as well.

If a physician prescribes antiviral medication, take as directed, as these medicines will help shorten the length of time you are ill.

And after a fever, stay home for at least 24 hours without having used fever reducer medication.

Other tips include: Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth to prevent the spread of germs from your hands to vulnerable parts of your body, immediately throw away all used tissues, cover all coughs and cover noses and mouths — with both hands — when sneezing, and clean and disinfect all high-touch, common areas every day.

Necaise and Dr. Mchale Kitto, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and an emergency medicine physician at McLaren Macomb, recently answered a series of questions from the Journal about the flu season, which so far this year has been a quiet one, they said.

When is the flu season in Michigan?
Necaise: The flu season in Michigan is usually October to April; sometimes cases have been discovered as late as May. Peak season is usually December to March. People generally get the flu less often than colds. Most flu sufferers get better within a week or two.

What are the common mistakes people make once they catch the flu?
Necaise: Delay in seeking treatment. Treatment with an antiviral needs to be started within 48 hours of developing flu-like symptoms in order for them to work the best. That’s not to say they can’t be of help after that time; they can still be beneficial. The three FDA (Food and Drug Administration)-approved influenza antiviral drugs recommended for use in the U.S. are oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza) and peramivir (Rapiacta). Those at highest risk for flu are young children (under the age of 2), older adults (65 and older), pregnant women and people with certain chronic medical conditions.

What are the serious symptoms of a flu?
Bronchitis, pneumonia, and symptoms that might require hospitalization would be for hydration and respiratory support, and serious health problems that can lead to death.

Kitto: A case of the flu that would require hospitalization would be a case so severe that it creates difficulty breathing, and the patient’s oxygen levels dropped a significant amount. However, these cases are rare and are more often seen in the very young or the elderly.
What are the differences between the common cold and the flu?
Cold: Fever is rare, headache rare, fatigue is slight, never extreme exhaustion, stuffy nose common, sneezing and sore throat is common, chest discomfort common, cough. Flu: Usually high fever (102-104 degrees), headache is common, fatigue is often severe, extreme exhaustion is common at the start of the illness, sometimes stuffy nose, sometimes sneezing, sometime sore throat, chest discomfort can be common and quite severe.

What are some additional measures people can take to prevent catching the flu?
Necaise: Encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated, especially if they are at high risk for flu complications. In addition to getting vaccinated, there are many preventive actions that can be taken: Staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to help in preventing the spread to others.

Kitto: If you start to display flu-like symptoms, get to your doctor or the ER within two to three days — within a day is preferable. There’s medicine that physicians can give you, but getting it within a day will give the patient the medicine’s maximum efficacy.

Self-care tips for those suffering with the cold or flu:
Necaise: Drink plenty of fluids, increase rest and sleep, use a humidifier to moisten the air, soothe sore throats by gargling with warm salt water or drinking warm water with lemon and honey, relieve nasal congestion, try chicken soup to break up congestion, avoid tobacco and alcohol, use over-the-counter cold preparations and pain, sore throat and fever medication with caution. Never give aspirin to children or teens, nor decongestant to children under age 2.

Seek medical advice if:
You have difficulty breathing.
You feel faint.
Your sore throat is severe.
You have a cough that produces a lot of phlegm (especially if green or yellow color).
Your fever is 102 degrees or higher with a cold, or 104 degrees or higher with the flu.
Your symptoms last for more than 10 days.
You have a fever with shaking chills.
You have a sharp chest pain when you breathe deeply or cough.You suffer from a condition that puts you at risk for getting a severe case of the flu or suffering from complications of the flu.