Flu Season in San Diego: What You Need to Know
The holidays are the most wonderful time of the year – as long as you or a family member doesn’t come down with the flu, that is.
Like most of the U.S., flu season in San Diego coincides with the holiday season. This makes it especially important to stay vigilant about your health this time of year by doing things like getting your flu shot, eating healthfully, getting enough sleep and washing your hands thoroughly and often.
But sometimes, getting the flu just happens. Here is what you need to know about it, and when to see your doctor, if you or a loved one starts to feel those dreaded flu symptoms coming on.
Flu Types, Symptoms and Treatment
Most people simply refer to seasonal influenza – the highly contagious respiratory infection – as “the flu.” But there are actually four different types of the influenza virus: A, B, C and D. Humans are only susceptible to types A, B and C – Type D is mainly found in cattle.
It is important to note that the influenza virus is completely different from the one that causes gastroenteritis, or the “stomach flu.” Stomach flus are brought on by the norovirus or rotavirus, or by food-bourne bacteria (food poisoning). In fact, many influenza sufferers never have any stomach-related symptoms, such as vomiting or diarrhea, at all.
Seasonal Flu Viruses
Influenza Types A and B are the most widespread and common flus, comprising nearly 75 percent and 25 percentage of seasonal flu cases every year, respectively. Type C makes up a tiny percentage of the seasonal flu cases, and its symptoms are mild.
Type A is the most severe flu, causing pandemics worldwide. It also has many different subtypes, as well as infects numerous species besides humans such as pigs, birds and dogs.
On the other hand, Type B flu only affects humans and does not have any subtypes. It is generally less severe than Type A and will not cause pandemics. However, both Type A and B are highly contagious, transmitted through microscopic drops of saliva in the air, and by touching infected surfaces, then touching your eyes or mouth.
Both flu types also cause the same nasty symptoms – which unlike the common cold, come on suddenly and intensely – including:
- Body aches, headache and sore throat
- Fever, chills and sweating
- Coughing and wheezing
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Extreme fatigue and weakness
- Loss of appetite or nausea
Why Get A Flu Shot?
Doctors recommend that all healthy adults (even pregnant women) and children over six months of age get a flu shot every year.
The vaccine is needed annually because your body’s immune response to the virus decreases over time. Also, influenza viruses are constantly mutating; the vaccine you got last year may not be effective for the same strain of the virus that’s prevalent this year.
Moreover, the flu vaccine is safe, will not make you sick and is effective in reducing the risk of getting the flu by 40 to 60 percent.
If you are lucky enough to have not contracted the flu in as long as you can remember, you might wonder why you would even bother getting a flu shot. Here are some great reasons:
- You never know if “this will be the year” – Even if you’ve been flu-free for years, it is inevitable that you will be exposed to, or contract, the flu again at some point in your life. Since you never know when that will be – and the resulting havoc it will wreak – it is best to stave it off with a vaccine.
- You may feel better sooner – It is true that the flu shot is not an iron-clad fail-safe against getting the flu. But if you do get the flu after getting the shot, you could experience shortened recovery time and far less severe symptoms.
- It’s socially responsible – Infants under six months old, who are not eligible for flu shots, and elderly persons or those with chronic diseases are highly vulnerable to contracting the flu. And in these cases, the virus has a strong chance of exhibiting severe symptoms, developing complications and even becoming life-threatening. Getting your flu shot reduces your chance of getting the flu, thereby reducing the chance that others will get it too.
When to See Your Doctor for the Flu
Coming down with the flu is miserable. But in most cases, physicians will tell their patients that there is not much they can do for them. Often, flu-ridden folks must wait for the virus to pass on its own – in about seven to 10 days.
But what about antiviral drugs for influenza? They do exist, but there are several reasons why your doctor might not prescribe them to you:
- They must be started within the first 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms or else they will not be effective. And even if they are started in time, antivirals typically only shorten the flu by one day.
- Antiviral medications have their own possible negative side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and even hallucinations. For healthy people with a mild or moderate case of the flu, the risks of the medication may outweigh the benefits.
- Widespread use of antivirals can lead to shortages, making the medication unavailable to the sickest people who need it. And as with the overuse and incorrect use of antibiotics, doing the same with antiviral medications can lead to resistance, causing the medication to become ineffective for the masses over time.
In the majority of cases, flu sufferers can best treat their symptoms with lots of rest, water and OTC medications that reduce fever, aches, runny or stuffy nose and sore throat.
There are some specific instances in which you should seek medical attention for the flu. You will want to see your doctor right away if any of the following is true:
- It’s gone on for more than a week – The flu typically lasts about a week to 10 days, during which time the symptoms should progressively decline. However, if you’ve gone a week without any improvement, schedule a visit with your doctor.
- If you are elderly or have a compromised immune system – Elderly individuals and those with compromised immune systems due to chronic or serious illness should make an appointment with their physician for further evaluation within the first 24-48 hours of flu symptoms’ appearance.
- You have chest pain or are having trouble breathing – Phlegm and mucus can make it hard to breathe through your nose when you have the flu. But if you truly feel like you can’t catch your breath, or if you have pain in your chest, see your doctor right away. It could be a more serious condition like pneumonia.
- You are vomiting everything you eat or drink – Although vomiting is not a particularly common symptom of influenza, if you are vomiting – and can’t seem to keep anything down, even water – go to urgent care or to the ER. Dehydration can become dangerous, or even life-threatening, if left untreated.
Looking for tips on how to stay healthy this winter? Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups has all the info you need to thrive this holiday season and beyond.