The flu is here. It is nasty and you should be doing everything you can to avoid it.
That is the message from Gary Pransky, MD, a family medicine physician who practices at Hallmark Health Medical Associates in Winthrop. "Without a doubt, the most important thing you can do to prevent the flu, or at least lessen its impact, is to receive a flu vaccination," said Dr. Pransky. "It is not too late to get the shot, as we still have at least a month of heavy flu season."
The most common reason people elect not to get the vaccine is the misconception that it can actually give a person the flu. "That is incorrect," said Dr. Pransky. "The flu vaccine is a 'dead' vaccine, meaning it has no live influenza components, and therefore cannot give someone the flu."
In addition to receiving the vaccination, people should adhere to strict hand-washing routines during flu season, get plenty of rest and exercise, eat a healthy diet and try to avoid stress. "Hand washing is effective when done with soap and water for at least 20 seconds," explained Dr. Pransky. "Hand sanitizers also work well."
If you do end up with the flu, you can do a few things to lessen its impact. "A medication called Tamiflu can help with the symptoms," said Dr. Pransky. "The trick is that you need to take it within 48 hours of showing flu symptoms." The symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting and cough. "Your physician can run a quick test to tell for sure if you have the flu, which is why it is important to contact your doctor as soon as symptoms begin to set in."
If you miss the 48-hour window, there are still some things you can do to feel better. "Rest and plenty of fluids can help. Anti-inflammatory over-the-counter medications can also help, but you should avoid taking aspirin," added Dr. Pransky. "And we shouldn't dismiss the power of chicken soup and hot fluids in general, as they can help to move the secretions through your system."
Dr. Pransky also reminds us that the flu can be deadly and should not be taken lightly. "It is estimated that in the United States, 5 to 20% of the population gets the flu each year on average and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. Flu is easily spread by coughing and sneezing and individuals are typically contagious for about one week and 24 hours after their fever is gone," he said. "It is crucial to stay home. Don't go to work or school if you suspect that you have the flu. It is too dangerous for people who are at heightened risk, including children under age 2, women who are pregnant or within two weeks postpartum, people on aspirin therapy or who are immune-suppressed, the elderly or those who have chronic diseases."
"I can't stress the importance of getting a flu vaccination," said Dr. Pransky. "There is still time to vaccinate and there is still plenty of vaccine. I would also recommend a pneumonia shot for seniors and those with chronic illness."
Dr. Pransky is a family medicine physician at Hallmark Health Medical Associates, located at 52 Crest Winthrop. He can be reached at 617-846-8622.

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