4 Ways to Minimize and Manage the Flu

February 6, 2019

By Carrie Vittitoe

From year to year, no one is ever really certain what the flu season will be like. While the influenza season of 2017-2018 was intense, this year’s season appears typical. “We are seeing flu and sick people but definitely not the volume we saw last year,” says Carrie Dodson, emergency room director at Clark Memorial Health.

 

Most of the time, the people who come to the emergency room complaining of flu symptoms have not received the flu vaccine, but their reasons for not getting the shot may not be what you think. While social media debates on the safety of vaccines wage long and loud, Dodson says these conversations typically occur among people who have primary care physicians and receive consistent health care. Many of the patients who come to the emergency room with flu do not have primary care physicians and are, therefore, not regularly urged by a medical professional to get the flu shot.

 

A person who isn’t vaccinated for flu faces a number of health risks, the least of which is the sniffles and fever of the flu itself. Influenza puts patients at risk for developing a variety of other potentially life-threatening issues, including dehydration, pneumonia, and sepsis (which is the body’s extreme immune reaction to infection). People who have chronic diseases such as diabetes or emphysema may experience a worsening of these conditions as a result of flu. “We have people who start out with flu and then get strep and mono – the terrible three,” Dodson says.

 

Dodson offers some specific tips for minimizing the risk of flu or managing it if you do catch it:

  1. In addition to getting a flu vaccine, hand-washing is critical. If a person is unable to wash their hands with soap and water, hand sanitizers are the next best thing. Think about all the things a person touches over the course of a day, from money to gas pumps to door handles, and the potential germs he or she comes in contact with as a result.

  2. If a parent or child does get sick with the flu, Dodson urges them to keep away from others, which may involve quarantining them to a bedroom and certainly keeping them home from school or work.

  3. Dodson recommends taking care to keep yourself healthy, which means not getting run down with stress or lack of sleep and managing any chronic medical conditions. “If you don’t take care of yourself, if you let yourself get run-down, that’s when you much more easily catch viruses,” she says.

  4. If you do happen to come down with the flu, then in addition to lots of rest and fluid, you’re going to need a large dose of patience. Dodson says by the time a person comes to the emergency room complaining of flu symptoms, then even with an antiviral medication, it is going to take several days to feel better. “You have to hydrate and rest, and unfortunately, many people don’t do that,” Dodson says. She adds that patients will sometimes be diagnosed and then be seen in the emergency room several days in a row because they don’t feel better as quickly as they expect.

If you think you have the flu, please visit your primary care physician. If you do not have a primary care physician, please call 800.424.DOCS.