It is already flu season and the vaccines are arriving in clinics around the country. But the flu can hang around a long time. As late as May.
It is a wise move to not wait for protection because waiting out the season can be most difficult since 2/3s of the year presents a flu risk. Even with millions of people taking flu shots, there are many millions more who refuse, forget, don’t bother, or don’t understand the importance of the shot. So every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 20% of the US population comes down with the flu. That means 1 in 5 people you know is carrying the virus. They are contagious from day one and for 5 to 10 days after they show symptoms – which can last day or two after the symptoms fade away.
2016-2017 flu season is expected to run from late September through spring. Sometimes, the flu season can start earlier and last longer. But, generally, it lasts 8-9 months every year and where you live makes a difference, too. The colder and wetter, the longer the flu hangs around.
What is the difference between a cold and the flu?
Since the flu and the common cold all share similar symptoms – coughing, eye fatigue, fever, general muscle pain, headaches, and overall discomfort – it is easy to misread the culprit. That is where a visit to Metro Urgent Care will help sort things out. However, flu symptoms usually arrive suddenly, hitting you from the blind side. A common cold builds over a few days. But watch for a fever. That is a key flu symptom not shared by early-stage colds.
You may be thinking you are safe – you stay at home, you work in an isolated area, you seldom get sick, and you have never had the flu – none of that matters. Maybe a loved one brings the virus home from work or school. Maybe you are subject to abnormal stress or have been working too long and hard, you miss some sleep. Nothing you world normally worry about but your immune system is now overloaded… an open door for the flu.
This isn’t folk lore. Studies have shown that sleep deprivation allows di-muramyl peptide, a protein, to accumulate in the spinal fluid. This peptide comes from bacteria in the body, suggesting that lack of sleep may enable bacterial growth. Oh, and di-muramyl peptides also cause fever. So if you are sleeping less than you should, you make it easier to catch the flu.
You are even more at risk if you take a sweet snack to boost your energy. We learned over forty years ago that vitamin C is used by white blood cells as part of their arsenal against viruses and bacteria. White blood cells, therefore, need to accumulate vitamin C – in fact, 50 times more vitamin C than normal cells. Now look at the ingredients of that sweet snack. How many kinds of glucose (aka: sugar) does it have? Oh, and they also list sugar separately. Since sugar and vitamin C have similar chemical structures, they compete for space in the cell. What regulates the entry of glucose into the cells is the same thing that regulates the entry of vitamin C. The more glucose in the blood, the less vitamin C that can squeeze into those cells. And diabetics especially need to pay close attention to their blood levels. Any reading over 120 reduces the phagocytic index by 75%. That means when you have high blood sugar, your struggling immune system cannot take in enough vitamin C to help fight the flu.
So, it is flu season almost all year. You take precautions. You even quit smoking because you know damaged lungs make you more susceptible to repertory infections. You are a hugging person but you put that off and avoid people who like to hug and plant a kiss on your cheek. That is hard in some cultures and families, but you are being careful. Just like you avoid the gym because flu gems can jump out at you from anywhere, even hid in your gym bag when you leave. You wash your hands correctly, often, and know that antibiotic gels help but are not a total solution. You have locked the alcohol away for the next nine months. And you have safely put the over-the-counter flu medication way in the back of the cabinet because you know that taking the medication too soon is ineffective and can actually increase your chances of catching the flu. You will take it when you need it, not before.
Alright. No need for a flu shot, right? They do come in a needle, after all. So when you do catch the flu (and without the shots, the odds are in favor you will), we will be happy to help you. Metro Urgent Care sees walk in clients, so come on down. We would rather you were on a wellness and health program with regular physicals and immunizations, but we will see you when you are ill.
During the 2015-2016 flu season, more than 500,000 cases of influenza were confirmed within the United States. Hundreds of thousands more were confirmed in Europe. Hundreds of thousands more were confirmed south of the equator, but record keeping is sometimes spotty in some of those areas, so the toll is probably much higher. And if you think you don’t need to worry about what happens in other countries, just keep in mind that nearly 50 million people visit the US from other countries. You have a better than 1-in-7 chance of bumping into their flu bug.
Get a flu shot. Not to sound like a broken record, but a flu shot drastically reduces the chances of catching the flu. Metro Urgent Care offers fast and affordable flu shots by appointment or just walk in. We have extended weekend and evening hours. Procrastinate and you may very be back with a fever, aching bones, and all the rest.
Thoroughly wash your hands. Your hands are a key element with both catching and avoiding the flu. The flu virus commonly rides on germs we easily pick up by touching things – like gym equipment, shopping baskets, and door handles. Thoroughly wash your hands often and use a hand sanitizer solution. Alcohol-based sanitizers can kill the flu virus. Alcohol outside your body is one of your most effective defenses. Remember to wash your hands up to your elbows, especially if you follow the excellent advice of sneezing into your arm, not your hand. Use alcohol based disinfectant gels when available.
Try to stay away from sick people. Sometimes that is unavoidable and, as cold it seems, wear gloves, a mask, avoid the get-well hugs, and people who like to touch. Be smart about who you contact and your chances of catching the flu drop dramatically.
Think and live healthy. Or, as healthy as your lifestyle permits. Sometimes, it is better to make it an earlier night, skip a few drinks, toss out the cigarettes, and try to keep a strong immune system than to spend a week fighting the flu. Contact Metro Urgent Care for tips on how to eat right, get enough sleep, exercise, and stay healthy. A healthy person can fight off the flu; someone with a stressed immune system can’t.
Bulk up on Vitamin C. Eat snacks high in C like oranges. Take the maximum daily dose of C supplements, at the least around 120 mg per day. Vitamin D doesn’t hurt, either, and B Complex can help you through the day where a candy bar used to be the answer.
If you forgot to go in for a flu shot or are allergic to the shot or are one of the few people prone to catch the flu even with a shot – this especially refers to young children, the elderly, those who are already sick, and people with immune system issues – you should be aware of the common flu symptoms. Even normally healthy people can be taken down with the flu if they catch a slight cold or sinus infection. Sometimes nothing you do seems to work. You will know the symptoms. Don’t ignore them.
These symptoms often precede the flu. They are very common from November to early December. That means Halloween candy needs to be rationed, not binged.
We are inundated with thousands of questions from our patients about the flu virus at Metro Urgent Care. It seldom changes much from year to year. Here is what we learned from early flu seasons:
Stay home and rest. The boss may be upset, but remember that is the better option than making the whole company sick. Settle in and drink large quantities of fluids. Orange juice is good. Gallons of water. You might consider a vitamin smoothie with oranges, strawberries, broccoli, spinach, and brussel sprouts. Add some pineapple, blue berries, and kiwi for flavor (a good fruit/vegetable mix often has the fruit flavor overpowering the vegetables, making it easier for kids and no-veggie adults to drink.) Keep away from other people so they do not become infected and reinforce your flu by constantly passing it back. Antiviral drugs like Tamiflu and Relenza may reduce the flu’s duration by 2-3 days if they are taken within the first day of catching the influenza virus. Taking them as a preventative has a counterproductive effect.
The flu is always changing. This is called “drift and shift,” when the flu virus mutates from the previous year’s version. Sometimes it even changes mid-season. However, the patterns are always familiar and the CDC may order two or three flu shots a season if they detect a strain morphing into something resistant to the antibodies created by the original shot.
Metro Urgent Care has flu shots, along with pneumonia shots, another necessary precaution for the elderly and chronically ill. If you are part of our regular medical care, come on in; we are expecting you. Even if you have never been in before, you are welcome to try our wellness programs. Or use our urgent care designed to help with injuries, sickness, and any other immediate need. Walk-ins for flu shots are always welcome. Stop by our Metro Urgent Care – you can use our interactive map to find the nearest location or call our main support line at (303) 555-5555 or contact our urgent care consultants via email at [email protected].