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Influenza Treatment

There has been a great deal of attention on the recent swine flu outbreak. Much has been said about its virility and deaths but there a numerous facts that have been overlooked that should be understood. With accurate information and understanding what we know about this new strain, a calm sensible approach is possible. This is a new strain of Type A influenza (known as H1N1) to which no one has any immunity. It is unprecedented for this type of virus to be transmitted from human to human. Despite the name, you cannot get it from consuming pork or ham. Unfortunately the media and rapid news cycle has created an inflammatory description without hitting the most important notes.

Much like the usual seasonal flu, many people are bound to get ill. The overwhelming majority are going to experience mild illnesses that require nothing more than the basic, but nonetheless important, measures to treat and recover fully. The seasonal flu causes 35,000 deaths each year in the United States as well as 200,000 hospitalizations. Much has been publicized about the deaths but those numbers are constantly being revised and still represent only a small proportion of the vast numbers who are getting ill.

Even the most expert public health and infectious disease experts have downplayed emphasis on the daily case count and concentrate on the characteristics of the illness and how it is spread. Understanding that this is "just the flu" is important to have a sensible approach to preventing and managing the illness. The term pandemic only refers to the spread of the illness over a wide area but does not mean the illness is any more severe than any other flu. There is a reasonable chance that this outbreak will die out shortly but return next season in the Fall and Winter. Active isolation and production of a vaccine for next Fall is underway. We may see the need to recommend two different shots next Fall to cover the usual season flu as well as the new strain. For now, don't be alarmed and focus on the basics that you can easily do to help yourself and your family.

There are a number of things that you can do to help yourself. They are simple and basic. In reality this outbreak is no different than other flu-like illnesses. Stay home and rest. Conserving your limited energy helps speed recuperation and it keeps from spreading the disease to the rest of the community. Drinking plenty of fluids — especially water and other clear liquids — is quite important. Fever control is best with good hydration and use of an over the counter anti-inflammatory. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil) is a great tool for this.

There are some prescription drugs, Relenza or Tamiflu, that approved for use with the flu. However they must be started with the first 48 hours of onset of your symptoms. They may shorten the duration of illness by only one day but it can help with comfort from the aches, pains, and fever.

Prevention is your best choice! Some simple measures may help you weather the storm if you are unfortunate enough to get the flu. If you do get sick, consult your health care provider if you have an earache, facial pain over the sinus area, colorful mucus, shortness of breath, temperature higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or simply on a worsening trend. These may be signs of a secondary bacterial infection or other complication. As always hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze play an important role in helping yourself and the people around you.

About Bruce Kaler M.D.