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February 2013 / Bronx/​Riverdale Family / Brooklyn Family / Long Island Family / Manhattan Family / Queens Family / Staten Island Family

Know how to stay safe from the flu

The flu has hit New York hard this year and has the city’s parents talking.

Word out is that this season’s vaccine is not as effective as it should be, making some patients hesitant about getting the flu shot for them and for their children. But doctors are stressing that getting the shot is better than nothing.

“Initially, patients refused flu vaccines because they were concerned about side effects and getting the flu from the vaccine, so it is important for people to know that it is not a live virus,” said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, clinical associate professor of the Department of Medicine at Leon H. Charney Division of Cardiology, and director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at New York University Lagone Medical Center. “Although it is not 100-percent effective, it is 62-percent effective and that is better than nothing,” said Goldberg.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness that can infect the throat, nose, and lungs, causing mild to severe illness.

For some people, the flu is more dangerous than for others.

“People who are particularly at risk for getting the flu are people with heart disease, lung disease, and illnesses that lower their immunity, like cancer,” said Goldberg.

Scientists try to stay ahead of things by changing the vaccine each year depending on what the epidemiologists see as the trend.

“Last year’s vaccine does not help you,” said Goldberg.

Sometimes, people do not realize they have the flu at first.

“You start to feel achy all over, your muscles ache, you are very tired, and you may have a cough, diarrhea, or vomiting,” said Goldberg. “Sometimes, the flu requires hospitalization. If you are dehydrated, not eating, dizzy, or feel like you are going to faint, you may be given intravenous fluids.”

Symptoms are different in terms of intensity compared to your routine cold. It is important to remember that not everyone with the flu has a fever. Being prepared is the key to fighting the virus.

“A thermometer is a good piece of medical equipment to have in your house, and you should have acetaminophen on hand to take for muscle aches,” advised Goldberg.

WebMD states that Americans are turning to cold and flu supplements in greater numbers this year. Instead of over-the-counter medications, people are considering natural remedies such as taking vitamin C, echinacea, and zinc, because the Food and Drug Administration has released reports about some over-the-counter cold and flu treatments being ineffective.

Studies show that while vitamin C can improve the immune system, it does not prevent colds when given in doses of one gram per day. But, it has proven to be beneficial as a treatment, reducing the duration of colds by as much as 24 to 36 hours.

Regardless of your decision to get vaccinated, you should take proper precautions. If you are exposed to someone who has the flu, you should talk to your doctor about antiviral drugs, which are typically between 70 and 90 percent effective at preventing you from getting sick. It is helpful to stay out of crowds and close quarters as best you can during flu season.

If you suspect you have the flu, take action.

“The fastest way to get rid of the flu, if you are having the most severe case, is to talk to your doctor so he can prescribe an antiviral medication known as Tamiflu, which shortens the course. The other thing you can do is stay home and rest,” said Goldberg. If it seems to get worse instead of better, seek medical attention.

If you are feeling very sick, you should not go to work. If your child is sick, do not send her to school. Try to avoid sharing utensils, glasses, and personal items. Common surfaces like telephones, computer keyboards, and doorknobs should be wiped down regularly to decrease the spread of germs.

Washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water is also a good means of prevention. Even better, you can get your child in the habit of washing for the duration it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”

Lifestyle choices like managing stress, getting adequate sleep at night, eating a balanced diet, and staying hydrated can make a difference in your flu-fighting potential.

Do not think you are immune to this epidemic. Be safe rather than sorry by consulting your pediatrician or family doctor about what you can do today.

Jamie Lober, author of Pink Power (www.getpinkpower.com), is dedicated to providing information on women’s and pediatric health topics. She can be reached at jamie@getpinkpower.com.

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