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Fighting the flu

Dr. Drew Werner

EAGLE COUNTY – If you’ve never had the flu, thank your lucky stars. If you have had it, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten! A week in bed, body aches, a nose that runs worse than a leaky faucet, nausea, fevers, even your hair hurts. If you have the flu, it feels like one foot is in the Sahara desert and the other in the Artic Circle. Too tired to get up, feeling too miserable to fall asleep there is nothing to do except watch old reruns and bad TV. Or is there? Moving forward from last week:Dear Doc: How much should my family worry about the coming flu season? Heard it might be a rough one. Should we get shots? How much do those help anyway? Does one-shot work for all flu viruses? Or do we risk getting shots for one kind of flu and getting another. How do health officials figure out which virus will be the worst one?- StayingHealthy in EagleDear Staying Health: Prevention is often the best medicine. We talked about the flu vaccine last week. Although especially important for high-risk groups of people including those over age 65 or between 6 months and 2 years and anyone with chronic medical problems like diabetes, asthma and several others, it is not for everyone. Egg allergies, busy schedules, fear of needles and just believing it is not for you are all reasons people do not get the flu vaccine. There is more to prevention than just a shot, though. Keeping your immune system healthy is important. Getting adequate sleep, eating healthy and managing stress are all essential. Beyond that, there are some over-the-counter remedies. Vitamin C in doses of 200-6000 mg daily can help. Dr. Linus Pauling fervently advocated the use of high dose vitamin C. His work showed about 50 percent of those who took large doses of the supplement benefited with fewer colds. The National Institute of Health recently increased their recommendation of dietary vitamin C intake to 200 mg daily. The FDA recommendations for adults are 60-75 mg daily. Other antioxidants like vitamin E may help, too. While the scientific data is still limited on any of these treatments, echinacea and zinc may offer benefits as well. These supplements are safe, and early use is probably the most important key to their successful use.Now, if the flu hits hard, there are four prescription medications that have been well shown to decrease the duration and severity of the illness. These include the older medications amantadine (brand name Symmetrel) and rimantadine (brand name Flumadine) as well as the recently introduced zanamivir (brand name Relenza) and oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu). Starting treatment in the first 24 hours is preferred, and the benefit rapidly decreases after 48 hours. While all four medications work against influenza type A, only zanamivir and oseltamivir work against influenza type B. It is important to talk to your doctor about which type of flu is in the community before choosing a medication. Amantadine and rimantadine have similar effectiveness, but rimantadine seems to have fewer side effects. Zanamivir is the only medication of the four that is inhaled and shouldn’t be used if you have asthma or emphysema. Amantadine and Tamiflu are approved for the treatment of influenza in children over 1. Although not officially approved, Flumadine is often used as well. Relenza is only approved in children over 7. So, stay healthy, exercise, eat right, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of sleep. If you’re unlucky enough to get the flu, see your doctor because medication might be right for you. Over-the-counter supplements are probably better at prevention than treatment, so there is no better time than now to get started. The flu is not here yet, but like the snow that blankets our mountains, it is coming.Please keep your questions coming in. The only bad question is the unanswered one. Remember, your health is your responsibility. Health is our greatest asset and it doesn’t happen by accident. If something doesn’t seem right, or questions are left unanswered don’t wait, call your doctor.Dr. Drew Werner of the Eagle Valley Medical Center writes a weekly column for the Daily. He encourages health questions. Write him by e-mail to editor@vaildaily.com or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, 81658.Vail, Colorado


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