the flu: protect yourself

With flu season already rearing its ugly and potentially dangerous head, we asked Marvin Lipman, MD, FACP of Scarsdale Medical Group to answer some important questions so we can better maneuver the months ahead.

Q: When does the flu season begin, peak, and end?

ML: We usually start seeing flu in November. The incidence peaks in January and February, and ends in late April and early May.

Q: How can I protect myself from the flu?

ML: The best way is to be immunized. Immune responses decline as you get older; ask your doctor which of the available vaccines is best for you. Keep your sleeping quarters well humidified, since dehydration enhances respiratory infections. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Avoid contact with infected people, and keep air travel to a minimum.

Q: What virus does this season’s vaccine protect against?

ML: There are two main types of flu vaccine this season. The trivalent vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses and one influenza B virus. The other, the quadrivalent vaccine, protects against an additional type B virus. There is also a supervaccine, which has four times the dose and is indicated for individuals who are chronically ill and/or immuno-compromised.

Q: How effective is the flu vaccine?

ML: That depends on the match between the viral antigens in the vaccine and the circulating viruses that are causing the infection. This is determined by noting which viruses are prevalent in the southern hemisphere during our spring and summer, which is flu season there.

Q: Who should be vaccinated?

ML: Everyone over the age of 6 months, including pregnant women, except those who have demonstrated an allergy to a prior injection of the vaccine.

Q: When’s the best time to be immunized?

ML: Since it takes two weeks to form antibodies, which then last for about six to eight months, any time after mid-October is best. But getting immunized as late as February can be protective.

Q. What should I do if I get the flu?

ML. First, recognize the symptoms: explosive onset of fever, chills, night sweats, and intense muscle aches. Then call your doctor for a prescription for one of the two antiviral medications: oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza). But note that these are effective only if started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. Keep yourself well hydrated with warm, soothing drinks; use throat lozenges to ease discomfort; and take acetaminophen (Tylenol) as needed for relief of fever and aches. Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are usually not needed, unless a secondary bacterial infection develops. Illness usually lasts one to two weeks.

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