Flu season is once again upon us and, as a nurse, I feel like this warrants a blog. There are some common misconceptions about the flu. My personal favorite is one that we’ve all heard – “I got the flu shot once and it gave me the flu”. This is absolutely 100% impossible. The flu vaccine is NOT a live virus, making it scientifically impossible for you to get the flu from it. If you get sick after getting the flu shot, it is purely coincidental; you were likely brewing some sort of viral illness prior to receiving it.
This brings me to my next point: not every illness/virus/cold someone gets during flu season is the flu. People tend to call whatever they contract the flu. The only way to know with 100% certainty that you have the flu is to be tested. It’s a nasal swab; it’s not pleasant, I’m not going to lie. At the Urgent Care that I work at on the weekends we do rapid flu tests right there; results within 10 minutes. How’s that for service? Other facilities send the swabs to the lab and you’ll have your results back within a few hours. If it comes back negative, you likely have some other viral illness that’s going around. I know, I know….no one likes to hear “it’s just a virus”. Bear in mind that the flu is a virus; these things just need to run their course. No antibiotic will make any of it go away. Treatment is rest, fluids, Tylenol…. the usual. **IF** you are diagnosed within 48 hours of the start of the symptoms, there is Tamiflu. Tamiflu is an antiviral that will lessen the symptoms and duration of the flu. It is only effective if started within the first 48 hours.
Okay, so what are the symptoms? The hard part is that the symptoms are like every virus out there. The one thing I can tell you is that the symptoms will come out of nowhere and hit you like a ton of bricks. When I had it, I woke up feeling great and went to work. Within 2 hours I ached, had a fever, and wanted to die. Anyway, symptoms are: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. You know, like most viruses.
By now you probably all know the best ways to prevent the spread of the flu, but I think that it bears repeating. The CDC and physicians will tell you that the best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine. Some agree with this and some don’t; it’s really a matter of preference. My son has chronic medical issues so both he and I get the flu shot every year. We have both had the flu despite having had the shot. Based on some cases of the flu that I have seen as a nurse, we definitely did not have as severe a case, and we were both treated with Tamiflu.
Other ways to prevent the spread of flu or any illness are exactly what one would expect:
- Stay home if you are sick. Don’t go to work; don’t send your kids to school. There is a reason they want kids fever free for 24 hours before coming back; they could still be contagious. No one at work wants to catch the plague from you. Just stay home.
- Avoid close contact with others. Cover your mouth if you cough/sneeze.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces. Desks, phones, door handle…they are all culprits. I love the sanitizing wipes. Use them often.
- Handwashing. This is probably the most important. We don’t even realize how often we tough our eyes, mouth, etc. It’s so easy to transfer those germs. I keep hand sanitizer in my car, on my desk, and in my purse.
So, here’s to hoping you stay healthy this flu season!