What Should I Do if I get the Flu this Winter?
Dear Dr. Mahler:
I am concerned about what to do if I get the flu this season. My doctor has told me my COPD is severe, but I am doing pretty good. I use Anoro in the morning, and have Combivent as my rescue inhaler. I try to walk or do some activity every day depending on the weather. However, I worry about the flu this winter, and how I might get very sick. What is your advice?
Cecilia from Salinas, CA
Signs and symptoms of the flu
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (feeling tired)
How Flu Spreads
People with the flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when someone with flu coughs, sneezes, or talks. A person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching her or his mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
When is Flu Contagious?
The flu can be passed to someone else before you even know you are sick as well as when you are sick. Most adults are able to infect others starting 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially those with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
When do flu symptoms start?
The average time is 2 days from when a person is exposed to flu virus to when symptoms begin. However, the range is 1 to 4 days.
How to prevent getting the flu?
You should stay away from sick people. Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use an alcohol based hand rub. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes with your hands.
Certainly, it is important to get the flu vaccine. If you haven’t received it yet, make sure to the shot as soon as possible.
Can the flu be treated?
There are prescription medications called antiviral drugs for treating the flu this winter. Since you have COPD, you are considered in the high risk group. Contact your health care provider as soon as symptoms start. Tamiflu is an antiviral pill that is used to treat acute, uncomplicated illness due to influenza A and B infection if you have symptoms of the flu for less than 48 hours.
When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also can prevent serious complications like pneumonia.
Complications of the flu
Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a more serious complication that can result from either influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria. Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues.
I hope that this information is helpful. Be safe and stay healthy.
Donald A. Mahler, M.D.