Influenza is hitting hard this year thanks to a drifted influenza strain (H3N2) causing a more serious illness and one that is not included in our annual vaccine. Because of the hard hit, public health officials are reminding us to get high-risk patients into see physicians early if they have symptoms of “the flu” or influenza infections. Reason being, those at high-risk for complications may benefit from a prescription anti-viral medicine that can lessen the burden of illness and decrease risk for complications. Over-the-counter medicines you buy don’t fight influenza.
What Is “The Flu” And What Is Influenza
In general, in healthcare we use the term “the flu” when discussing an infection with influenza, a virus that causes widespread body aches, high fever, cough/cold symptoms, headache or even leg aches. Some children vomit with influenza infections as well (incidentally many patients with lab-confirmed influenza that I’ve seen this winter have also been vomiting) although in general influenza infections are upper and lower respiratory infections, and not the “stomach flu.” We worry about influenza as it’s in the list of top ten causes of death in the US and because it can cause severe symptoms, even in children. Infants and young children are at particular risk for serious infections as their bodies and their immune systems haven’t fought off influenza before.
High risk patients:
- Children 2 years & younger (their immune system not as robust and not as much “memory” to fight off severe influenza infections).
- Adults age 65 year & older (their immune system is aging and not as robust fighting off severe influenza infections).
- People with underlying health problems (including asthma) or other lung problems, other chronic health conditions (like diabetes, heart disease).
- Pregnant moms or newly postpartum moms.
- Those people immunosuppressed.
The Numbers So Far
According to the CDC, widespread influenza activity is being reported in 46 states. The most common strain is that drifted virus H3N2, accounting for over 90% of the more than 5,000 reported influenza-positive tests recorded last week (ending January 10). It’s still too soon to tell whether we’ve reached the peak of flu season, however there are early signs that the virus is lessening in parts of the country. So far, this year the influenza vaccine is estimated to be about 23% effective, clearly not as effective as usual but still providing some protection.
What Over-The-Counter Medicines Can Help With Influenza?
It’s important to remember that over-the-counter (OTC) medications cannot cure “the flu” nor shorten your suffering with symptoms. They’re designed simply to help you get through the illness and should be taken within the proper guidelines. In general children under 4 should not be given OTC cough and cold medicines.
That being said, there are four types of medications that can make getting through the flu a little more bearable. Read full post »