October – Cold & Flu
Treating and preventing the seasonal flu
The normal treatment for flu is rest, plenty of liquids, and acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or acetylsalicylic acid (ASA)* to help with headache, muscle aches, and fever. Children and teenagers with flu shouldn’t take ASA or other salicylates (medications related to ASA, such as salsalate or magnesium salicylate). The combination of influenza and ASA is linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious condition affecting the brain and liver. Very few over-the-counter cold medications contain ASA or other salicylates. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about this.
Antibiotics are not effective against viral infections like flu and the cold, but they are prescribed for complications such as bacterial infections.
Amantadine is used for fighting flu in high-risk patients. It can shorten the disease if taken within 24 to 48 hours of symptoms appearing. It can also protect you from type A flu if you’re likely to be exposed to the virus in the next few days. It carries some risk of side effects including insomnia and confusion. Amantadine does not work against type B viruses, and type A viruses can easily develop resistance, hence it is no longer recommended.
Zanamivir and oseltamivir are medications that prevent newly formed viruses from escaping the infected cells that produced them. This limits further spread of the virus in the body. Zanamivir is an inhaled spray and oseltamivir is available as capsules or oral solution. Taken within 24 to 48 hours after the onset of illness, these medications reduce the duration of symptoms by an average of 1 to 3 days.
Only flu antibodies can prevent flu. The only ways for our immune systems to generate antibodies are for us either to be infected or to get vaccinated. Vaccination needs to be repeated every year.
Each spring, a worldwide network of physicians and testing labs decide which flu strains are likely to cause trouble and design that year’s vaccine accordingly. The vaccine gives resistance to the type B strain and the 2 type A strains that are expected to predominate in the coming flu season.
The vaccine is usually over 80% effective in preventing the seasonal flu in healthy adults. It’s given to anyone classified as high-risk, health workers, and anyone who wants to avoid the flu.
High risk groups for seasonal flu include:
- anyone aged 65 years or older
- people with chronic heart, lung, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes)
- those with chronic kidney disease, anemia, a weakened immune system, or asthma
- residents of nursing homes
- children receiving long-term ASA therapy who may be at risk of developing Reye’s syndrome
- children 6 months or older with respiratory disorders
- children between the ages of 6 and 59 months
- people who are morbidly obese (BMI of 40 or greater)
- Aboriginal peoples
- Healthy pregnant women (all trimesters)
Sometimes, as in the 1997 to 1998 flu season, a new mutation appears after the year’s vaccine has been prepared and it’s too late to change it. Fortunately, so far the new strains haven’t been different enough to completely bypass the resistance offered by the vaccine. Don’t forget to wash your hands properly and frequently, eat well, and get plenty of sleep to help prevent the flu.
Ask Your Pharmacist
Question: Can I get the flu even if I’ve had a flu shot?
Answer: Yes, even if you get a flu vaccination every year, there is a possibility that you could still get the flu. That’s because the annual flu vaccine is designed to protect against the flu strains that are forecasted to circulate in the coming year, but the viruses that cause the flu are always changing. However, without the flu shot, your symptoms could be much worse and you’re far more likely to catch or spread the flu virus if you don’t get a flu vaccination.
Also, the vaccination takes about two weeks to build up the antibodies needed to strengthen your immune system and if you’re exposed to a flu virus during that time you might get the flu. The first and best line of defence to keep you and your family healthy is to get your annual flu shot. Ask your pharmacist about getting a flu vaccination.
Do you have more questions? Speak with your Pharmasave pharmacist.
Eat well, stay active and get enough sleep. In addition to getting an annual flu shot, these are some things you can do to help boost your immune system and stay healthy through the cold and flu season. Eating a balanced diet and getting enough physical activity and sleep can help improve your overall health and strengthen your immune system too, making you less vulnerable to illness. Also, don’t forget that washing your hands often with soap or using an antibacterial gel can help you prevent and avoid spreading the flu.
Speak with your Pharmasave pharmacist about getting a flu vaccination, advice on supplements and other preventative options that can help support a healthy immune system.
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