- Personal Health Information & Self-Help
How to Treat and Prevent Colds and the Flu.
The Flu and Cold season
The Flu and colds season is usually around the months of fall through to winter and sporadic episodes of break-outs during early spring in the months of April. It is, therefore,essential to be prepared all year round by getting vaccinated. It is never too late to get the flu shot! Better late than never! One may receive the vaccination anytime during these months of the cold season.
Colds and the Flu: Sneezing is a common symptom.
Colds and the Flu
Sneezing, stuffed up,running nose, sinus and chest congestion,coughing, headache,body aches and fever. Do these sound familiar ?
During the year round, adults suffer bouts of these symptoms,on average, about four times a year whereas children can suffer more times a year.
The flu is caused by an influenza virus which changes its form very quickly such that every year we have a different form of the same virus. These changes are scientifically referred to as mutations and the new forms are described as mutants.The mutagen refers to the virus that is changing its form.
How is the flu transmitted?
From animals to humans. Examples; birds to humans---referred to as birds flu, swine to humans--referred to as swine flu.
Transmission can also occur from humans to humans--referred to as the common cold or flu.
Flu could be a seasonal or all year round condition which peaks around the coldest months from the October to the April months of the year.
Who is at risk of contracting the flu and catching colds?
- Infants;- These are at risk because their immune systems are not fully developed to combat the flu virus as a result they easily catch the flu whenever exposed to the influenza virus.
- Old people;- 65 years and above. As our seniors become of age, their body systems start to slow down among them is their immune system. This decline in their ability to fight germs renders them susceptible to not only the flu but any other contagious disease.
- Health workers.- These individuals are exposed to the flu virus due to the nature of their occupations. They come into contact with infected people and thus making them a highly risk group.
- School going individuals;- School going children are a risk group due to the fact that they are always in crowds and a big population of individuals in one place increases the probability of an outbreak of the disease and allows for easy spread of the virus.
- Individuals whose immunity is compromised by chronic conditions such as diabetes, kidney and heart disease,cancers, HIV and AIDS,lung diseas;asthma and COPD.These individuals are a highly risk group for contracting not only the flu virus but many infectious dieases and, therefore, must take extra precautions to reduce their risk beacuse their bodies cannot fight infections optimally.
- Pregnant women. The individuals may be susceptible to the virus due to the reduced immunity during pregnancy.
Treatment of colds and the flu.
The treatment of this illnes is more of a supportive and symptomatic treament or palliative treatment than a curative one.
Once exposed to the virus, the incubation period is 5 to 10 days before the symptoms appear..
The symptoms are managed singly or severally depending on their severity.They last from anywhere between 5 to 14 days.
For headache use of acetaminophen or aspirin is recommended. However, aspirin use is not recomended in children and adolescents for fear of developing Reye's syndrome. Ibuprofen or naproxen have also been recommended. All these medications are found over-the-counter at the local drug stores.
For sneezing and running nose. The use of antihistamines has been recommended such as the use of diphenhydramine, doxylamine,loratidine, cetrizine,chlorpheniramine,and bromopheniramine. However, beware of the drowsiness and drying effect of antihistamine drugs such as; diphenhydramine,doxylamine,chlorpheniramine and bromopheniramine.
For coughing, may make use of cough supressants such dextromethorphan found in combination with the antihistamines and decongestants. One may also use expectorants such as guaifenisin to break up the thick mucous secretions produced when one has the colds and the flu infection.
For nasal and chest congestion; may make use of decongestants such phenylephrine and pseudoephedrine. The pseudoephedrine products are now found behind the counter in your local drug stores and require some form of identification in order to purchase them. To get rid of the congestion one may also employ the use of mucous-breaking products or mucolytic agents such guafenisin. Nasal rinses have also been used to wash and loosen the mucous lodged in the nasal passages.These rinses are mainly saline solutions and can be purchased without prescritions at the local drug stores. Vapourisers and humidifers have also been used to ease the nasal and chest discomforts associated with colds and the flu.
For the body aches and fever; may use same products as in the case of headache. Use aetaminophen,aspirin(where applicable),naproxen and ibuprofen.
In general, in addition to managing the symptoms adequately, plenty of rest, drinking of fluids and a healthy diet allows for quick recovery from the colds and the flu.
Some prescription-only antivirals have also been used to lessen the severity and duration of the symptoms by weakening the virus. Such antivirals include; osetalmivir commonly known as Tamiflu,a trade mark from Roche pharmaceuticals and amantidine is the other one given via mouth. Some are used intravenously(IV) when hospiatlised such as; zanamivir IV and peramivir IV.
Complications of cold and the flu.
If very severe and poorly managed symptoms are allowed to go on without interruption, complications may arise which may include secondary infections by bacteria such as streptoccocus leading to strep. throat, otitis media in children,pneumonia in children and the elderly or individuals with lower immunity such as diabetics,Aids patients,cancer and pregnant women.
Bacterial sinus infections are common secondary to a flu infection and these can be treated with antibiotics.
Some serious cases of secondary infections may require hospitalzation such as pneumonia commonly seen in young children and the elderly..
Some of the secondary infections are severe and depending on severity and how quickly the treatment is instituted may become fatal.
Seizures is a common complication of this condition especially in children. Dehydration may follow as a complication of diarrhoea caused by influenza infection in children and the elderly. It is recommended that these individuals are encouraged to continue drinking and eating.
Prevention of colds and the flu.
The best cure for the flu is prevention. As they say prevention is better than cure.
There are various practices that each one of us can adopt to reduce the numbers of those who get infected and also to reduce the severity of the disease in those who get infected.
- Basic personal hygiene practises such as; hand-washing, covering mouth while sneezing or coughing. Disposal of used napkins in safe and secure trash containers. Avoiding direct contact with infected people.
- Use of alcohol based hand-sanitizers. This is a big one nowadays. We are always touching contaminated surfaces that we share with those who are infected.Therefore, clean hands after touching any surfaces in common areas.
- Use of disinfectants aerosols and cleaning agents that can kill the viruses and bacteria by spraying in contaminated rooms and cleaning contaminated surfaces such counter tops,tables and high-chairs in common places.
- Vaccination of all risk groups and if possible all the people. Mass vaccination is a sure way to building immunity in individuals who are likely to be exposed to the viruses. It is even better to vaccinate all individuals who qualify to.
The flu vaccination is an annual feature that takes place pre-flu season. However, this exercise has sometimes been dogged by insufficient supplies of the vaccines leaving a lot of qualified subjects without the vaccination.The vaccine can be given as a live nasal mist virus or dead virus in the injectable form. There is a myth that goes a round that the flu vaccine causes the flu in some individuals. Not quite right for the injectable form. It may just be coincidental.How about autism in children and the flu vaccine? Again no study has so far proven this fact to be true. Again, purely coincidental.
Why get vaccinated?
By getting vaccinated you can protect yourself from influenza and may also help reduce the spread of the virus to others around you- at home, workplace, school and other common places.
Each year many people die from the influenza and many more end up being hospitalized. Anyone can get the influenza infection but more children are infected and can get much sicker than adults. However,the elderly,pregnant women, individuals with chronic health conditions such as diabetes,asthma,COPD,kidney disease,heart disease are also at very high rate of infection and get much sicker.The flu can cause very high fever and pneumonia, and make their existing medical conditions get worse.
Types of Influenza vaccine.
There are two types of the influenza vaccine that are available to be given every year. These keep changing annually because of the rapidly changing influenza viruses. Each year scientists try to express in the vaccines the viruses that match those most likely to cause the flu that year.
The two types of influenza viruses are:
- Live,weakened or referred to as live,attenuated influenza vaccine(LAIV).This is available as a nasal mist sprayed into the nostrils during vaccination.
This vaccine is recommended only to be administered to healthy individuals between the ages of 2 through 49 years .
It should not be administered to infants 6 to 23 months of age, adults 50 years and above, individuals with certain chronic health condition, pregnant women,children and adolescents who are on chronic aspirin treatment, immunocompromised individuals, children below 5 years of age who are asthmatic and have experienced wheezing within the last year.
Live,attenuated influenza vaccine is made from a weakened virus and does not cause influenza. However, the vaccine may cause mild flu-like symptoms to the recipients.The symptoms vary with the age of the individual and may include; nasal congestion,running nose,headache and muscleache,cough,sore throat, chills,fever,diarrhoea and abdominal pains.
2. Inactivated influenza vaccine. This is made from a killed virus and is given as an injection administered as an intramascular injection commonly referred to as a "flu shot".
This vaccine can be administered to all people from 6 months and older.
Only mild problems have been associated with the the inactivated flu vaccine and may include; soreness and redness at the site of injection, changes in one's voice such as hoarseness, effects on the eyes such as redness,soreness or itchness;cough,fever and body aches.These effects are only temporary lasting 1 to 2 days and they begin shortly after the vaccination.
Once the vaccines have been administered it takes up to 2 weeks to develop the necessary protection or immunity against the germs.The immunity is achieved by the body responding by preparing itself for a future attack by the flu virus.
Severe reactions from the influenza vaccines.
Like with any vaccines, severe reactions fron the influenza vaccination is extremely rare but if it occurs ,it is mainly in the form of an allergic reaction. The allergic reaction may be life-threatening and this will usualy occur within a few to a few hours after the vaccination.
The symtoms for a severe reaction may present as any unusual conditions of high fever and behavioral changes. The signs of a severe allergic reaction may manifest as laboured breathing,wheezing,body eruptions such as hives,rashes;body changes such as paleness,weakness;cardiovascular changes such as a rapid heart beat; or central nervous effects such as dizziness.
In case of an emergency, activate the emergency system by calling or accessing the doctor and reporting the pattern of the reaction to the relevant authorities.
Products that may be used to manage Colds and the Flu symptoms
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Your Online Source for Credible Health Information
Information on the flu vaccine
- Vaccine Information Statements - VISs - CDC information sheets for patients
Vaccine Information Statements (VISs) are CDC information sheets for patients and parents about vaccines. IAC provides VISs in more than 40 languages.
Vaccine severe reaction reporting system
- Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System
A system of reporting,if there is a severe reaction to a vaccine,ask your medical doctor to report the reaction by filing a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)form,or you can file this report through this VAERS website.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
- HRSA - National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
Official Health Resources and Services Administration Web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. People who believe that they may have been injured by a vaccine can learn about this program and how to file a claim.
Drug therapy and Pharmacist recommendations on Flu
- Pharmacist's Letter
Information on the latest research on relevant drug therapy and recommendations made by pharmacists to manage some conditions such as colds and the flu.
Flu Information and Influenza Prevention
This link provided as public health service by Sanofi Pasteur to provide information and latest updates on the influenza situation for US residents.
All about the Influenza Live Vaccine
- FluMist(R) (Influenza Vaccine Live, Intranasal)
Learn about FluMist (Influenza Vaccine Live, Intranasal)