Haven’t gotten your flu shot? It’s not too late, says Dr. Susan Lipson of St. Luke’s Family Practice in Ottsville. And it’s a good idea, Dr. Lipson says. Pennsylvania has seen a very high number of flu cases early in the season, and it’s not likely to let up.
Getting the flu shot may not prevent you from getting the flu, Dr. Lipson says. However, should you get the flu, it can lessen the severity of your symptoms and help you to get back on your feet sooner. “If you had the flu shot and you get the flu, you should start to feel better in a few days. If you haven’t gotten the flu shot, it can take a lot longer to go away,” Dr. Lipson says. “Without the shot, it can take seven to 10 days until you feel better.”
The flu season generally runs through April. It can take four to six weeks for the flu shot to be effective, “although some people develop immunity sooner than that,” Dr. Lipson says. In the past, she says, people who had egg allergies couldn’t get the flu shot. “But now there is a shot that’s safe for people with egg allergies.” Really, Dr. Lipson says, anyone 6 months or older, should get a flu shot if they haven’t already.
How do you know it’s the flu and not just a bad cold? “The flu is pretty nasty,” Dr. Lipson says. Unlike a cold, it comes on suddenly. “You may feel like you were hit by a truck. You feel so bad you can’t get out of bed.” The flu has upper respiratory symptoms similar to a cold or bronchitis including a sore throat, congestion and a cough. However, the flu also causes body aches and a fever. Patients with the flu will almost always run a fever, sometimes a very high fever even up to 103-104 degrees, Dr. Lipson says.
How to treat the flu
How is the flu treated? If you get the flu and are diagnosed within the first 24 to 72 hours, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral. The antiviral medication won’t make the flu disappear, but it may improve your symptoms sooner, Dr. Lipson says. “It can shorten your illness by a day or two. Patients who are suspected to have the flu can get the medication from their doctor if their symptoms started within just a few days.”
Because the flu is a virus and not a bacterial infection, there’s not much you can do other than rest and stay hydrated, Dr. Lipson says. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, but antibiotics don’t help viral infections, she says. It’s important to stay hydrated and drink plenty of clear liquids because having a fever can cause you to become dehydrated, she says. Dr. Lipson recommends drinking as much liquid as you can tolerate. Avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and chocolate drinks, she says. Caffeine causes you to lose fluids.
You also can take pain relievers to lower your fever and reduce your body aches. The best pain relievers for the flu are acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin, Aleve), Dr. Lipson says.
If you have the flu, take care of yourself, Dr. Lipson says, because you don’t want to develop pneumonia. The flu can lead to pneumonia and pneumonia can be serious, especially in the elderly and children under 2, she says.
Susan Lipson, M.D. is a family medicine physician at St. Luke’s Palisades Family Practice. Dedicated to extraordinary personal care, Dr. Lipson takes the time to educate her patients on important health decisions that will improve quality of life. Call 267-424-8020 for more information.