Treating the flu in a year with an imperfect flu vaccine

Graphic: Americal Recall Center

Graphic: Americal Recall Center

You know it’s here…the flu! People coughing and sneezing. Out from work and school. And, of course, the stories on the news about this year’s flu vaccine mismatch between the circulating flu and the one in the the vaccine.

Many of the news stories painted a bit of a gloom and doom pictures about this year’s flu vaccine. I heard most discuss how it was a complete miss, and not even “in the ball park”. In reality, the vaccine didn’t come as close as expert hope but it wasn’t a complete flop either. That’s why experts still advocate everyone get the vaccine. Better to have an imperfect vaccine that covers imperfectly than no vaccine that covers not at all. Put another way: some protection is better than no protection.

We also have to remember that we don’t just get the flu shot to protect ourselves. We get the flu shot to protect the community as a whole and people in the community whose immune systems need a bit of a boose. Those people include infants, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. The is called herd immunity. It’s like a big immune system huge and provides a coat of armor for people who need it. With an imperfect flu vaccine, the coat of armor will have some weaknesses but will provide some protection. Again, some is better than none.

If the flu does enter your home, don’t panic. As a virus, it is self limited so will run it’s course in 7-10 days. Rest, fluids and fever control are the mainstays of treatment. For fevers that persist past 3 days in all ages or are accompanied by a cough, call your doctor for advice. And, as always, if your loved one looks sick or worrisome to you, call your doctor for advice. Your loved one can return to work or school when the fever has been gone for 48 hours and all the symptoms have resolved. This can take a good week so be patient.

National Drug Facts Week - Shatter the Myths!

Finally, when we get the flu, or our kids get the flu, we often reach for over the counter medications to ease our symptoms. Sometimes they help but they often do not. In fact, in children, especially children under 4 years of age, they can actually be harmful, which is why in 2008 the FDA changed the labelling for over the counter medications cold medications to read to not use in children under 4. And, as noted in this week’s National Drug Fact week information, over the counter cold and cough products are often used by teenagers to get high. So, best to keep them in a safe place at home and consult your kids’ pediatrician before using – or even having in your medicine cabinet – for kids of any age.

Flu shot. Fluids. Fever control. That’s really it in a nutshell to battle the flu in most people, especially children.  If anything else is needed, especially medication, your family member’s physician can help you make that important decision.

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