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The flu has arrived

Dr. Drew Werner - Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO

EAGLE COUNTY – Someone call for help! I think I was just run over by a truck and I never even saw it coming! Well help is here and the license plate of that truck is “HERE COMES THE FLU.”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. Too tired to get up, feeling too miserable to fall asleep there is nothing to do except watch old re-runs and bad TV. Or is there?Dear Doc: How much should my family worry about the coming flu season? Heard it might be a rough one. Is it too late to get the flu shot? How much do those help anyway?Does one shot work for all flu viruses? – Trying to Stay Healthy in EagleDear Trying: Prevention is often the best medicine. The most important step in prevention is the flu shot. Even though we have identified flu in our community, it is not too late to get vaccinated. 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 other conditions, it is also important for pregnant women, those who care for young children or care for those with the conditions I have listed. We are fortunate this year to have plenty of vaccine, so the flu shot is a good idea for almost everyone. 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 its recommendation of dietary vitamin C intake to 200 mg daily. The FDA recommendations for adults are 60-75 mg daily. Other anti-oxidants 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 key.Now if the flu hits hard, there are two prescription medications, which have been shown to decrease the duration and severity of the illness. Unfortunately, the older medications amantadine (brand name Symmetrel) and rimantadine (brand name Flumadine) are no longer recommended due to high resistance to them that developed during last year’s flu season. The two newer medications are zanamivir (brand name Relenza) and oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu). The key to the use of any of these medications is early treatment. Starting treatment in the first 24 hours is preferred and the benefit rapidly decreases after 48 hours. Zanamivir and oseltamivir work against both influenza types, A and B. Zanamivir is inhaled and shouldn’t be used if you have asthma or emphysema. Oseltamivir may be more effective and is approved for children as young as 1 year old. So how do we know it is the flu and not a cold? The following might help:Flu symptoms generally include a rapid onset over a few hours, high fevers (100.5 to 104 degrees F) with chills and sweats, severe muscle aches, loss of appetite (anorexia), severe malaise and a significant dry cough. The common cold which may include several other viruses has a more gradual onset, lower fevers, rare muscle aches, a stuffy nose, sneezing and often a sore throat. The misnamed “stomach flu” is actually an entirely separate virus and not the flu at all.So, stay healthy, exercise, eat right, drink plenty of fluids and get plenty of sleep. If you’re unlucky enough to get the flu, get in to 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. Most importantly, the flu is here, so get your flu shot as soon as you can.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.


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