“There can also be a secondary infection, such as pneumonia or bronchitis,” said Frogel, “and we’d have to suspect that before we prescribe an antibiotic.” Medicines such as Tamiflu can stop a virus in its tracks, he said, by not allowing it to attach itself to a cell — but they should be given when symptoms first appear, ideally within 48 hours, to lessen the severity of the flu.
If you’re diagnosed with the flu, Frogel prescribes rest, lots of fluids, disposing of used tissues and treating fever and body aches with over-the-counter medications. “Keeping kids out of school and staying home from work is important to stop the spread … I know that’s difficult for many people, but it does help.”
Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are useless against the flu, upper respiratory infections and viruses, Walerstein explained. “But there are anti-flu medicines that, for high-risk patients, if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, may be useful in decreasing the severity of the flu,” he said.
Those who are 65 or older, who are pregnant or who have conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease are more likely candidates for such anti-flu medicines if they experience symptoms, and should immediately contact their doctor.
Families, who share the same household, are especially vulnerable to the flu, Walerstein said, which is very contagious. To prevent such exposure, he said, it is important to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds after every sneeze, and each time you touch your mouth or eyes.
As of Jan. 10, the NUMC had not recorded any fatalities as a result of influenza-like illnesses, but, Walerstein said, “In the normal flu season there are fatalities, particularly in the very young and very old.”
Those who fear a unique strain of the virus can breathe a sigh of relief. According to Walerstein, the flu now going around is the one that was anticipated when this year’s vaccine was created. “It’s not a new strain,” he said. “It’s not something strange or bizarre.”
But he cautioned that it is still a very aggressive strain. “The routine flu is a serious illness, particularly for those who have underlying illnesses,” he said, “and we really have to take this seriously right now.”