January 17, 2000
Flu season is upon us, bringing its much-dreaded symptoms of aches and pains, fevers, chills, and stuffy noses.
On the surface, it seems that more people have been affected with influenza than in past years. In newspapers and on television, there have been reports of the havoc this nasty virus has wreaked across the country. Here in the Puget Sound area, however, the number of cases reported is not unusual for this time of year.
"There is nothing dramatic in terms of what we normally see," says Janice Boase, Assistant Chief of Epidemiology and Communicable Disease Control for the Department of Public Health, Seattle and King County. "This is the time of year to see the flu, and we are not hearing from health care providers that larger than normal numbers of people are sick with the virus."
The type of influenza that is dominant now is Type A Sydney and it attacks all age groups, but it can be particularly hard on very young children and the elderly. Its duration runs from four to ten days, and with it comes a fever of over 101 degrees, body aches, and typical cold-like symptoms. To help ease these symptoms, Boase advises rest, plenty of fluids, and a good diet.
She says, "Fluid intake is important with the flu, because you lose fluid with a fever and it's easy to get dehydrated. Because people don't feel well, they often don't want to drink lots of fluids, but this can be dangerous. The flu can also lead to pneumonia as one of the more serious complications that can occur."
The best prevention method, according to Boase, is to receive an immunization. Everyone can get a flu shot, but she stresses that it is especially necessary for the elderly and those who work around lots of people to receive one.
"Ideally, getting the shot in October or November is best," explains Boase, "but it's not too late to get one now, because the flu can extend into March around here. What the vaccine does is give you a portion of the viral component. Your body then develops immunity against that component, and later, if you are challenged with the entire virus, your body recognizes the component and develops the necessary antibodies to combat it."
Sometimes people complain that they get the flu after receiving an immunization. According to Boase, this belief is erroneous. She says, "The vaccine does not give you the flu. You can feel achy and run a fever because your body is in the process of developing immunity, but this is not the flu. These symptoms are easily mistaken for the flu, but it's not the real thing."
Outside of getting a flu shot, health practitioners advocate good hygiene with hand washing and enough sleep, along with eating right to keep the body strong enough to fight disease.