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It's not even December and more than 90 people across the United States have died from influenza this season.
Health officials have been warning Americans for weeks to prepare for the flu season for exactly this reason: Reports of flu-related deaths are starting to trickle in as prime flu season approaches, and state health departments around the country are beginning to announce fatalities (such as this announcement from South Dakota).
In that state, upwards of 35 "lab-confirmed cases of the flu and 8 flu-related hospitalizations" have already occurred. Elsewhere in North Carolina, four people have died from contracting the flu, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. Many states have reported news of people passing from flu sickness as December approaches, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that at least 91 people have died from influenza across the nation since October 1.
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Given that flu season is very much a threat to health between now and late March, it's looking like this year could be as deadly as ever (if not more so). Last year, more than 80,000 Americans died from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
What can you do to protect yourself from the flu, you may ask? If you haven't received a flu shot yet, there is time.
"It's not too late to get vaccinated for this flu season, and if you haven't yet received your annual flu vaccination, the time to do so is now," writes Joshua Clayton, an epidemiologist in the South Dakota Department of Health, in a statement.
More on keeping yourself healthy this winter season:
You already know that the flu is highly infectious, spreading through "respiratory droplets released when an infected person coughs or sneezes,” according to the South Dakota Department of Health, which added that the viral sickness can lead to a high fever, severe cough, sore throat, and fatigue, among other symptoms.
Beyond washing your hands properly and getting a flu shot, we're walking you through four more ways you can keep yourself in tip-top shape this flu season:
Watch What You Eat
It goes without saying, but a healthy diet can help your immune system ward off any harmful bacteria. Sticking to a well-balanced, wholesome diet during the winter months is more important than ever, says Michele Leder, MD, an internal medicine physician based in New York—focus on lots of fresh produce, whole grains, and lean protein. Anything on this list of six foods that naturally boost your immune system would be a good choice.
Avoiding added sugars can also help reduce inflammation and cutting back on alcohol consumption can also aid your health, Leder says.
"It's an immunosuppressant," she explains. "And a lot of over-the-counter remedies may contain some amount of alcohol."
Steer Clear of Public Places
If there's any time to hole up in your own kitchen, it's flu season—the virus is highly contagious and can linger in the system for up to a day before symptoms develop, according to the CDC. Try to spend as little time as possible in busy public places like grocery stores, restaurants, shopping malls, and movie theaters, Leder said.
Get Some Exercise
We know that recent research suggests that failing to exercise can actually cause you to be more stressed than ever—and poor mental health can also increase your chances of contracting the flu. Leder said that chronic stress influences cortisol levels, which in turn increase natural inflammation and puts you at risk for infections, including the flu.
Cover Your Mouth—Yes, Really
Preventing the spread of the flu becomes much easier if you take time to cough and sneeze into the crook of your arm or into a tissue. Bacteria is less harmful when it comes into contact with fabric or a tissue, the CDC says, which is why it's so important to make it a habit this winter. You'd be helping keep those around you that much safer, and should be doing so every day.
Flu Report: What to Know About the 2020–2021 Season
W hile you can get the flu at any time during the year, the fall officially marks the beginning of the flu season, since cases start to rise in October, peak between December and February, and usually taper off by May.
Influenza, or the flu, is a serious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. Not to be confused with the common cold, which tends to be milder and come on more gradually, the flu can hit you like a truck — you may feel a profound sense of weakness, and all you’ll want to do is rest. This infection has the potential to lead to serious health complications and even death.
The 2020–2021 flu season is looking to be especially challenging because it’s expected to rev up at a time when COVID-19 cases are predicted to be surging. Already, the novel coronavirus is sickening tens of thousands of people across the United States, with infection rates rising in many states.
We are looking at a double-barreled respiratory virus season with COVID and flu out there making people sick with very, very similar symptoms.
Health experts are concerned that the overlap in symptoms between the flu and COVID-19 — both can cause fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, and fatigue, among other issues — may lead to delays in diagnosis and treatment.
“We are looking at a double-barreled respiratory virus season with COVID and flu out there making people sick with very, very similar symptoms,” says William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and a professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. “Both can be deadly viruses that hit you really hard, knock you off your feet, and give you pneumonia.”
What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs
Yes. There are prescription medications called &ldquoantiviral drugs&rdquo that can be used to treat flu illness. CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have flu infection or suspected flu infection and who are at high risk of serious flu complications, such as people with asthma, diabetes (including gestational diabetes), or heart disease.
What are antiviral drugs?
Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid, an inhaled powder, or an intravenous solution) that fight against flu viruses in your body. Antiviral drugs are not sold over the counter. You can only get them if you have a prescription from a health care provider. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections.
What should I do if I think I am sick with flu?
If you get sick with flu, antiviral drugs are a treatment option. Check with your doctor promptly if you are at high risk of serious flu complications (full list of high risk factors) and you develop flu symptoms. Flu signs and symptoms can include feeling feverish or having a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to treat your flu illness.
Should I still get a flu vaccine?
Yes. Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, a flu vaccine is best way to help prevent seasonal flu and its potentially serious complications. Everyone 6 months and older should receive flu vaccine every year. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense that can be used to treat flu (including seasonal flu and variant flu viruses) if you get sick.
What are the benefits of antiviral drugs?
Antiviral treatment works best when started soon after flu illness begins. When treatment is started within two days of becoming sick with flu symptoms, antiviral drugs can lessen fever and flu symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by about one day. They also may reduce the risk of complications such as ear infections in children, respiratory complications requiring antibiotics, and hospitalization in adults. For people at high risk of serious flu complications, early treatment with an antiviral drug can mean having milder illness instead of more severe illness that might require a hospital stay. For adults hospitalized with flu illness, some studies have reported that early antiviral treatment can reduce their risk of death.
When should antiviral drugs be taken for treatment?
Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be beneficial, especially if the sick person is at high risk of serious flu complications or is in the hospital with more severe illness. Follow instructions for taking these drugs.
What antiviral drugs are recommended this flu season?
There are four FDA-approved antiviral drugs recommended by CDC to treat flu this season.
- oseltamivir phosphate (available as a generic version or under the trade name Tamiflu®),
- zanamivir (trade name Relenza®)
- peramivir (trade name Rapivab®), and .
Generic oseltamivir external icon and Tamiflu® are available as a pill or liquid suspension and are FDA approved for early treatment of flu in people 14 days and older. Zanamivir is a powder that is inhaled and approved for early treatment of flu in people 7 years and older. (Note: Zanamivir (trade name Relenza®) is administered using an inhaler device and is not recommended for people with breathing problems like asthma or COPD.) Oseltamivir and zanamivir are given twice a day for 5 days. Peramivir is given once intravenously by a health care provider and is approved for early treatment of flu in people 2 years and older. Baloxavir is a pill given as a single dose by mouth and is approved for early treatment of flu in people 12 years and older. (Note: Baloxavir (trade name Xofluza®) is not recommended for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, outpatients with complicated or progressive illness, or hospitalized patients because there is no information about use of baloxavir in these patients.)
How long should antiviral drugs be taken?
To treat flu, oseltamivir or inhaled zanamivir are usually prescribed for 5 days, or one dose of intravenous peramivir or oral Baloxavir for 1 day. Oseltamivir treatment is given to hospitalized patients, and some patients might be treated for more than 5 days.
What are the possible side effects of antiviral drugs?
Side effects vary for each medication. The most common side effects for oseltamivir are nausea and vomiting. Zanamivir can cause bronchospasm, and peramivir can cause diarrhea. Other less common side effects also have been reported. Your health care provider can give you more information about these drugs or you can check the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website external icon for specific information about antiviral drugs, including the manufacturer&rsquos package insert.
Parents, if your child gets sick with flu, antiviral drugs offer a safe and effective treatment option. For treatment, influenza antiviral drugs should ideally be started within 2 days after becoming sick and taken for 5 days.
Can children take antiviral drugs?
Yes, though this varies by medication. Oseltamivir is recommended by CDC for treatment of flu in children beginning from birth and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends oseltamivir for treatment of flu in children 2 weeks old or older. Zanamivir is approved for early treatment of flu in people 7 years and older, though it is not recommended for use in children with underlying respiratory disease, including asthma and other chronic lung diseases. Peramivir is recommended for early treatment in people 2 years and older. Baloxavir is approved for early treatment of flu in people 12 years and older.
If your child&rsquos health care provider prescribes oseltamivir capsules for your child and your child cannot swallow capsules, the prescribed capsules may be opened, mixed with a thick sweetened liquid, and given that way. Learn more here.
Can pregnant women take antiviral drugs?
Yes. Oral oseltamivir is recommended for treatment of pregnant women with flu because compared to other recommended antiviral medications, it has the most studies available to suggest that it is safe and beneficial during pregnancy. Baloxavir is not recommended for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers, as there are no available efficacy or safety data.
Who should take antiviral drugs?
It&rsquos very important that flu antiviral drugs are started as soon as possible to treat hospitalized flu patients, people who are very sick with flu but who do not need to be hospitalized, and people who are at high risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health if they develop flu symptoms. Although other people with mild illness who are not at high risk of flu complications may also be treated early with antiviral drugs by their doctor, most people who are otherwise healthy and not at high risk for flu complications and who get flu do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.
Add these ideas to your regular bedroom-cleaning regimen:
- Place a wastebasket in the sick room to catch all those used tissues — and make sure to line the basket with a plastic grocery bag to minimize contact with germs. Empty at least once a day, replacing bags each time.
- Sometimes the wastebasket get grungy — especially if the sick person vomits in it. To disinfect it, rinse the wastebasket well then wipe the inside and outside with a solution of 1/2 cup bleach and 3/4 gallon of water. Allow two minutes for disinfecting then rinse with warm water and air dry.
- Dust can be extra irritating when someone’s sick, so Roberts recommends dusting furniture — especially the headboard and the nightstand — and vacuuming the floor. Remember corners and under the bed.
- Move stale air out and fresh air into the bedroom by opening the windows every day. You don’t have to leave them open all day, just long enough to freshen the room.
CDC Director gives flu shot warning – and a big COVID-19 prediction
Flu season vaccinations may already be available, but the CDC’s Director has cautioned against being too eager to get the shot, amid ongoing concerns that influenza and COVID-19 could cause a perfect storm of sickness this winter. Speaking on a call, CDC chief Dr. Robert Redfield advised against immediately getting a flu shot, while doubling-down on recommendations that could not only help prevent coronavirus but influenza too.
The potential for simultaneous COVID-19 and influenza pandemics has led to serious worries among healthcare professionals for the upcoming flu season. Though the flu vaccination is recommended for all people six months or older in the US, less than 46-percent of adults got the shot in the 2018-19 flu season.
That’s a big deal, because the CDC says that there’s a direct correlation between vaccination levels and hospitalization load. According to one CDC study, for example, the impact of increasing vaccination levels by just 5-percent could prevent 4,000 to 11,000 people being admitted into hospital with flu. While that range would depend on the severity of the season, the fact that flu cases will coexist with coronavirus cases means that any reduction in demand for healthcare providers is significant.
Despite all that, you shouldn’t rush out to get a flu vaccine today, according to the CDC’s Dr. Redfield. “CDC recommends getting vaccinated in September and October,” he suggested.”Getting vaccinated now is too early, especially for older people, because of the likelihood of reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season.”
Even with a vaccination later in the year, though, the flu shots may need to continue into early 2021. According to Dr. Redfield, “as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue, even in January or later.”
So far, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not forecast how many cases of influenza might be expected in the 2020-21 season. One possibility, indeed, is that a positive response to COVID-19 among the general population could have a knock-on effect in reducing flu cases. If people consistently wear masks and social distance, Dr. Redfield pointed out, that will not only help reduce coronavirus spread.
“I’m also hopeful that the recommendations CDC, states, locals, and even many companies and organizations have, for wearing masks and physically distancing, will mean there are decreases in other respiratory diseases like influenza and the viruses we believe are associated with AFM, enteroviruses,” the CDC chief explained.
It was an opportunity for Dr. Redfield to repeat arguably one of his most controversial suggestions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in July, he predicted that coronavirus could be brought under control in the US in as little as 1-2 months – assuming, that is, if enough people committed to wearing masks.
“A lot of times you can have a behavior that if half of us do, we can make progress,” he repeated on the recent update call. “This virus isn’t going to require half of us to do the mitigation steps correctly. It’s not even going to require 75% of us to get this right. We really do need to see 90, 95 or 96% or more to embrace the wearing of the mask, social distancing, hand hygiene and wisdom about of how one engages in crowded places If we all do this.”
According to Redfield, “what we’re asking the American public to do is to bring this virus to its knees. It’s in our hands. It’s in our grasp. But it is going to require all of us to embrace these mitigation steps. And we are going to need to do that for 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks and then we will see this outbreak get under control.”
Quite whether sufficient numbers of the American public – and indeed the politicians they elected to govern them – have the commitment and focus for that remains to be seen. Certainly, the track record on mask wearing so far in the US would indicate it’s unlikely. As of August 24, 2020, there were over 5,682,000 cases of COVID-19 in the US, with the disease blamed for more than 176,000 deaths so far.
Stay Healthy: 6 Tips for Avoiding Cold and Flu
People who are exposed to cold and flu germs every day -- doctors, flight attendants, teachers -- know a thing or two about how to stay healthy when everyone around them is sick. Their suggestions can help you, too.
Get a flu shot. It's the No. 1 thing you can do to prevent the flu.
Wash your hands -- a lot. No matter what line of work you’re in, if you come in contact with people who are contagious, you have to wash your hands over and over, says Alan Pocinki, MD. Pocinki practices internal medicine at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.
“Wash your hands as much as you can stand, and then some more -- especially after wrapping up a visit with someone who’s sick,” Pocinki says.
It sounds so simple, but soap and water are the constant companions of doctors and nurses. To completely get rid of viruses from your skin, you need to scrub hard for 20 seconds or more. A good way to time yourself is to sing "Happy Birthday" twice while scrubbing the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. It doesn't matter if the water's hot or cold -- the very act of scrubbing will physically remove the germs.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. If you can’t get to soap and water, sanitizer can kill cold and flu germs.
Avoid getting close to people who are sick. For example, don't shake hands.
“Doctors tend to be very cautious about hand shaking,” says Terri Remy, MD, medical director of Medical Associates at Beauregard in Alexandria, VA. “Just explain, ‘To keep transmission of colds and flu down, I’m not shaking hands. But hello! Nice to meet you!’ They understand.”
Keep your surroundings clean. Arlington, VA, massage therapist Amanda Long asks clients to stay home if they feel bad. But to be safe, she sanitizes doorknobs and light switches between sessions. It's a practice she swears by.
“My hyper-vigilance has paid off,” Long says. “I was sick more often when I worked in an office, where people pawed into shared candy dishes and generally just mingled in a crowded space without much attention to germs. Now that I don't have sick days, I don't get paid if I don't work. And I know my job is to heal, not pass on a cold or the flu.”
Beth Geoghegan, a paramedic in South Florida, says she starts her day by cleaning her work space with virus-and-germ-killing soaps.
“It may sound like overkill, but it’s not -- it’s awareness,” she says. “It’s a matter of looking at your environment and thinking, 'What could be contaminated?' All it takes is a tiny droplet. What could have a droplet on it? And I know someone was in my ambulance for 12 hours before I got there -- both patients and other paramedics. It may already look clean, but it might not be.”
It’s also a matter of context. When Geoghegan gets home from a shift where nothing much happened, she launches into her normal activities. If it’s been a day filled with sick patients, she follows a different routine.
“If I saw 10 patients today, and eight had flu symptoms, I’m likely to take my uniform off the minute I get home, put it in the wash, and get right in the shower. Because you just never know,” she says.
Keep up a healthy lifestyle. It's important to look after your own health, says Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, an internal medicine and infectious disease specialist in Lexington, KY.
“Do all the things we all should be doing on a daily basis anyway,” Hoven says. “Get adequate rest -- which people underestimate -- get good nutrition, don’t smoke, and keep your allergies controlled, because if they’re out of control, then your upper respiratory tree is already inflamed, which sets it up to more easily acquire a virus.”
Ardis Dee Hoven, MD, internal medicine and infectious disease specialist, Lexington, KY. Amanda Long, massage therapist, Arlington, VA.
Alan Pocinki, MD, George Washington University Hospital, Washington, DC.
Terri Remy, MD, medical director, Medical Associates at Beauregard, Alexandria, VA.
Vitamin C—If You Take it At This Specific Time
Your mom probably told you to drink a glass of orange juice when you felt sniffles coming on. Turns out there is some science behind that advice. "The first thing I reach for when I feel a cold coming on is vitamin C," says Dr. Kelly Bay. "Studies have shown that taking vitamin C within the first 24 hours of symptoms can lessen the length and severity of the cold."
4 Ways the Flu Can Turn Deadly
This flu season is fierce and has already claimed the lives of at least 37 children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There were 11,965 new laboratory-confirmed cases during that week ending January 20, bringing the season total to 86,527. The number of people infected with influenza is believed to be much higher because not everyone goes to their doctor when they are sick, nor do doctors test every patient.
Added to those scary stats, the World Health Organization estimates that annual flu epidemics result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness globally and 290,000 to 650,000 deaths.
Although the fever and aches may feel terrible, most of us don’t die from the flu. So how exactly does this common illness lead to so many dying?
“Influenza and its complications disproportionately affect people who are 65 and older. They account for 80% of the deaths,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.
But young children and people who have an underlying illness, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, are susceptible to dying from the flu as well, he said. There are three ways adults can succumb:
“The usual flu death is a person who gets influenza, gets all that inflammation in their chest, and then has the complication of pneumonia,” explained Schaffner, who added that this is a “long, drawn-out process.”
Pneumonia is an infection that causes the small air sacs of the lungs to fill with fluid or pus. Though this is the most common route to death, flu can be fatal for more unusual reasons.
“Much of the systemic symptoms that any of us have with influenza — the fever, the aches and pains, the sense of exhaustion — all of those are part of (our body’s) response to the virus,” said Schaffner. The symptoms we experience are an inflammatory response to the immune system “soldiers” that our body sends to fight any pathogen, he said.
“Pushing the war analogy, we all know there is incidental damage that occurs during the course of a war,” said Schaffner, and so the flu can also take a perfectly healthy person “and put them in the ER in 24 to 48 hours.”
Flu stimulates an immune response in everyone’s body, but for some people, this natural response can be “overwhelming,” noted Schaffner. “Young robust people can have such an overwhelming response that it’s called a cytokine storm.” Cytokines — proteins that are created as part of the inflammatory response — create a “storm” in the body, explained Schaffner: “And this cytokine storm can actually lead to sepsis in the person.”
Kyler Baughman, 21, is one example of that happening. He died unexpectedly in December at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh after a bout with the flu. Baughman, a college student, worked two jobs and often posted pictures of himself at the gym on social media. The cause of his death, as reported by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner, was influenza, septic shock and multiple organ failure.
Chances of a heart attack are increased sixfold during the first seven days after a flu infection, a new study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine found. The study looked at nearly 20,000 cases of flu in Ontario adults age 35 or older.
The risk may be higher for older adults, said Dr. Jeff Kwong, lead author of the study and a scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario. Heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is abruptly cut off this is also called acute myocardial infarction.
Since a few days usually elapse between getting sick and getting a lab test, Kwong said “the increased risk is probably within the first 10 days or so after exposure to the virus.”
The research, which identified 364 hospitalizations for acute myocardial infarction among the flu cases studied, also showed a stronger association for influenza B than influenza A. “We would have needed more cases to determine if the difference was real or just a chance finding,” said Kwong.
Though the new study did not identify the reasons why flu might lead to heart attack, Kwong and his co-authors theorize that infectious illness may cause inflammation, stress and constriction of blood vessels, which increases blood pressure.
Threats to children
The overwhelming majority — 99% — of children under age 5 who die from flu-related illness are in developing countries.
Children in the developed world may not face such high risks, but they are still vulnerable if they develop flu. Sepsis resulting from flu can cause the death of very young children, said Dr. Flor M. Munoz, an associate professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine.
“Children have different risks depending on their age,” said Munoz, and the most worrisome ages are “infants in the first year of life and those under 5 years of age.”
“What’s different from adults is children have a lot of opportunities to not only be exposed to flu but also to spread the flu,” said Munoz. In general, children are the first to get sick when flu season begins, mainly because they are in school and playing with others — and spreading germs.
“They can be completely healthy and still have problems with the flu,” said Munoz. “The flu shot doesn’t offer the same protection as it does for adults.”
This is due to the lack of “immunologic experience” that children have. The immune system in infants is “still developing and it has different responses, let’s say, to new things,” said Munoz. “Young children will not necessarily have the same response that older children, adolescents or adults have.” The same is true for very old people, said Munoz: “That’s just a normal way the immune system works.”
However, the worry whenever a young child or infant gets flu symptoms, including fever, is that they might have a more serious infection occurring at the same time. “Young children at that age can have meningitis, pneumonia, bacterial infections, not necessarily flu-related,” said Munoz. “One needs to be more cautious.”
“Certainly, we do tend to see secondary infections,” said Munoz. So a child will start with the flu and the irritation in their noses and throats leave them exposed to more germs and so they develop another bacterial infection — ear infections, say, or sinusitis or pneumonia.
With the child’s immune system already fighting the flu and then another bacteria on top of that, sepsis may be the result. These are the cases we hear on the news, said Munoz, “previously healthy children that don’t feel well and in a day or two they die of some complication.”
Another threat? Though children and adults experience the same symptoms when sick with the flu, children are more likely to get diarrhea and to vomit. This can lead to dehydration in infants and small children, Munoz said, and it can be life-threatening at such a young age.
What do parents need to know?
“Every year we’re going to have the flu. Every year we have anywhere between 50 and 100 deaths of children from the flu,” said Munoz, who is also a member of the Committee on Infectious Diseases for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This is something to be taken seriously.”
Parents can make sure their children are vaccinated, she said. “As a mother, if you have something at hand that can protect your child, why not?”
“It’s a very safe vaccine — it is not true that you can get the flu with the vaccine,” she added.
Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC’s Domestic Flu Surveillance team, supported Munoz’ view. “We want to continue to emphasize that there’s still a lot of flu activity to come, people that haven’t been vaccinated should still get vaccine,” said Brammer. “We may be getting close to the peak of this wave, it’s not unusual to have a second wave of influenza B come through.”
The flu shot is admittedly imperfect, Schaffner said, but there are still benefits. “If you get the vaccine and you have a flu-like illness, it’s likely the illness is less severe,” he said. “Data show you’re less likely to get pneumonia and less likely to die.”
If a child, especially a small one, becomes sick, parents should visit a doctor or health care provider who may prescribe medication, said Munoz.
By treating illness, antiviral drugs become a second line of defense against serious consequences. While most otherwise healthy people will not need to be prescribed antiviral drugs, those who may benefit from these medications are “people who are high risk, the elderly, children under 2, pregnant women and people with chronic health problems,” said Brammer.
Antiviral drugs are known to work best when started within two days of getting sick. Studies show these drugs, which rarely produce side effects, can lessen symptoms and shorten the time a person is sick by one or two days.
“It’s a brisk influenza season and I think it will end up being a moderately severe one,” said Schaffner. “We’ll take any bit of protection and prevention we can get.”
The Flu Season Is Already Deadly. Here Are 5 Ways to Keep Safe - Recipes
Here Comes the Flu Season
Protect Yourself the Wise Woman Way
© 2004 Susun S Weed
Along with the beauty of fall days comes the need to get ready for winter. Time to get out my long underwear and my warm wooly socks. Time to nourish my immune systems so cold days won't be days of colds -- and flu.
I don't rely on modern medicine to keep me healthy, but if you usually rely on a flu shot to protect you, you may feel frightened by your inability to get one this year. You may be wondering what you can do instead. Or you may have discovered that flu shots don't give protection from all types of flu, just the ones the makers guess will be active this winter. And you may wonder if there isn't some other way to prevent the flu. Or maybe, like me, you prefer not to use shots or drugs unless absolutely necessary. You may wonder what herbs and remedies are the best to have on hand to help your family deal with the flu.
No matter what your situation, now is a good time to give yourself the benefit of Wise Woman Ways to prevent -- and deal with -- the flu. These flu presenters and flu remedies are simple. They are quite safe. And you don't have to be rich to use them. Wise Woman herbal medicine is people's medicine. Mama Medicine. You can buy most of the things I discuss in this article -- and you can find them growing freely, too. You can buy the herbal preparations I mention already made -- and you can easily make you own for pennies, too.
These Wise Woman Ways are supported by both tradition and science. Wise women through the centuries have kept themselves and their families safe from contagious diseases. And science has found good reasons for their effectiveness. I hope these tips will help you face winter's ills with confidence, and good health.
Beat the Flu
The best way to prevent the flu is to build a powerful immune system. While this can't guarantee that you won't get the flu, neither can the flu shot. Here are my favorite ways to keep my immune system strong:
Eat more garlic.
Drink nourishing herbal infusions daily.
Make immune-strengthening soups or add immune-strengthening herbs to canned soup.
Use anti-viral herbs as needed.
Eat More Garlic
One of the best immune-system helpers is garlic. Dr. James Duke says it contains at least 17 different factors that nourish and support powerful immune system functioning. Herbalists in the middle ages relied on it to prevent infection from the plague, so it might keep us safe from the flu. Garlic is anti-bacterial, too. If you don't like fresh raw garlic, powdered garlic is just as good. The dose is 1 or more cloves of raw garlic per day, or up to a teaspoon of garlic powder.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to eat raw garlic:
Top scrambled eggs with minced raw garlic.
Put chopped raw garlic on pasta and cover with tomato sauce.
Try minced raw garlic on a piece of hot buttered toast. Delicious!
Add minced raw garlic to your baked potato.
Mix chopped raw garlic and olive oil with hot cooked greens like kale or spinach.
Drink Nourishing Herbal Infusions
Nourishing herbal infusions are the basis of great nourishment for the immune system and the entire body. They are full of antioxidant vitamins, minerals, proteins, phytoestrogens, and hundreds of protective phytochemicals that work to help you ward off the flu and colds too.
Here's how I make a nourishing herbal infusion:
Choose one herb: nettle, oatstraw, red clover, comfrey leaf, linden flowers, or violet leaf.
Place one full ounce, by weight, of any one herb in a quart jar. A canning jar is best.
Fill the jar to the top with boiling water.
Screw on a tight lid
Let it steep for four hours, or overnight.
Strain the liquid out, squeezing the herb.
Refrigerate the infusion, where it will be good for 24-36 hours.
I drink two to four cups nourishing herbal infusions daily -- over ice, heated up with honey and milk, or mixed with other beverages.
Make Immune Strengthening Soups
Cooking herbs and vegetables together for a long time extracts minerals, actives immune-strengthening phytochemicals, and increases the levels of available antioxidants. Raw foods weaken and stress the immune system.
To make an immune strengthening soup:
Chop at least half an onion per person and saute in olive oil until translucent..
Add at least two cloves of garlic, sliced or chopped, per person and saute for a minute.
Add two or more cups of water or vegetable broth per person.
Add one cup per person of chopped seasonal vegetables such as: carrots, cabbage, celery, corn, burdock, turnips, potatoes, tomatoes, parsnips.
(If using canned soup, begin here.)
Add one small handful of seaweed per person.
Add one ounce fresh, or one-half ounce dried mushrooms -- any kind -- per person.
Add one-quarter ounce dried tonic roots per person.
Add generous amounts of antioxidant seasoning herbs and some sea salt.
Bring to a boil simmer for an hour.
Turn off fire and let your soup mellow in a cool place overnight.
Serve it the next day, heated up, with freshly-baked bread and organic raw milk cheese.
Seaweeds build powerful immunity. Kombu and wakame are excellent in soups. Cut them small they swell to 5-7 times their dried size when cooked.
All mushrooms strengthen the immune system. Dried shitake are available and inexpensive at Chinese grocery stores. Reishii, maitake, and other medicinal mushrooms are delicious, as are the more common button mushrooms, portobellos, and dried porcinni.
Tonic roots help our livers, lymph, and kidneys work well, protecting us from infection. I often put these tough roots into a jelly bag and drop that into the soup so I can fish it out before serving. I use one or more of these, fresh or dried, depending on what I have available:
Seasoning herbs from the mint family -- rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram, and sage -- are loaded with antioxidants. I don't just season the soup with them, I add them by the handful for the greatest impact on my immune strength.
Anti-infective herbs can help us prevent the flu -- and assist us if we do get sick. Colds and the flu are caused by viruses, making them more difficult to treat than bacterial infections. Viruses are more vital than bacteria and harder to kill. There are many anti-bacterial herbs -- including yarrow, echinacea, elecampane, and poke -- but few that are anti-viral. Of these, my favorite is St. Joan's/John's wort. If any herb can prevent the flu, St.J's can.
Of course, even flu shots don't prevent all types of flu, and they don't prevent colds, so even if you do get a shot, it's a good idea to have some anti-viral and anti-bacterial herbs on hand. The distinction between them is not so important once you are sick. Both types of herbs will alert the immune system to the infection and help it gather the resources needed to counter it. Did you know that the achy muscles and headachy feeling we get with the flu is not caused by the flu itself but results from the immune system gobbling up all available resources so it can clobber the flu virus.
St. Joan's/John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)
This beautiful yellow flower yields a blood-red tincture that I take by the dropperful to prevent viral infections such as the flu. A dropperful in the morning throughout the cold months is adequate for prevention. I increase that to 2-3 dropperfuls a day if I have been exposed at home or at work to the flu. If I do get sick, I will use other herbs to counter the infection. Capsules of St. J's are ineffective I only use the tincture.
Echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia)
The tincture of echinacea root is a well-known anti-infective. When I feel an infection brewing, I use large doses of echinacea to build white blood cells and encourage T-helper cells. The dose of echinacea root tincture is 1 drop for every 2 pounds of body weight, as frequently as every hour or two in the acute phase of an infection, 2-4 times a day otherwise. I have seen echinacea relieve terrible flu infections.
Important: I do not use echinacea as a preventative it doesn't seem to work that way. I do not use any part of this plant except the root. I do not combine it with goldenseal, which I believe hinders the immune system. I do not take echinacea in capsules.
I make a quart of echinacea tincture each fall as my winter insurance. Here's how I do it: Put 4 ounces of dried Echinacea augustifolia root in a quart jar. Fill to the top with 100 proof vodka. Cap tightly and label. Shake daily for the first week. Then weekly for at least eight weeks.
Poke (Phytolacca americana)
The tincture of this root is so powerful some authors consider it poisonous. You may have a hard time finding it for sale. But poke is an important helper when flu "bugs" have taken over. I would not take poke as a preventative it is far too strong. I use poke root tincture to kick my immune system into high gear. The dose is one drop -- yes, only one drop -- once or twice a day for no more than a month, although in serious cases I may use up to 8 doses a day. Poke root tincture can harm the kidneys if it is taken continuously. I never take capsules of poke root.
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
The tincture of this root is a favorite for clearing lung infections and countering the flu. The usual dose is 10-15 drops 2-3 times a day, but I would increase the dose to 6 times a day in an acute situation. I expect to see results within a day or less. I would only take elecampane if I had an active infection it has little protective value. I never use elecampane capsules.
Elder (Sambucus canadensis)
Elder flowers are a nice remedy for those with a feverish cold, but for those with the flu, I prefer elder berries. The most common way to take them is in the form of a syrup. The immune enhancing properties of elder berries are renowned in Europe and slowly gaining popularity in the United States. Elder berry syrup also eases coughs and lung congestion.
Winter is Coming
Herbs may not seem strong enough to prevent or counter the flu, but they are. When we use herbs to maintain and regain health, we not only take a big step toward health independence but a small step toward peace on our planet. Instead of making war on weeds, I use them. Instead of making war on nature, I let Her guide me. Instead of making war on myself when I'm sick, I nourish myself toward greater health, greater peace.
Green blessings surround us. Herbs not only protect us from the flu, they can uplift our hearts and bring us joy in trying and uncertain times.
Tips to Avoid the Flu
1. Wash your hands, this is the single best way to avoid the flu.
2. Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hand. Viral particles are easily passed from hands to eyes and nose even if you use a tissue.
3. If the flu is active in your area, avoid public places.
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4 Things to Do if You Think Your Child Has the Flu
One morning, your child wakes up with the classic signs of sickness: Runny nose. Sore throat. Body aches. You check their temperature: It’s high. So is it a cold or the flu? And if it’s the flu, what should you do?
Up to 11% of kids get the flu at some point. Usually they recover just fine. But in some cases, the flu can lead to more serious illnesses.
How to Tell if It’s the Flu
The flu and the common cold are both caused by viruses, and the symptoms can be similar -- a stuffy or runny nose, achy muscles, fatigue, a sore throat, fever, or a headache. The biggest difference is how fast your child feels those symptoms -- and how bad they are.
A cold will seem to creep up on them in a few days, but the flu is more like a surprise attack: they’ll feel very sick, very quickly. And while they might run a fever with a cold, the flu almost always causes one, which can make them feel tired, achy, and weak. Kids are more prone to have vomiting and diarrhea with the flu, too. In general, flu symptoms happen throughout the entire body, instead of just in the head.
The Next Steps
- Call the doctor. The flu often goes away on its own after a week or so, but in some cases, it can cause serious complications. Kids under 5 -- especially those younger than 2 -- are more likely to have those problems, as are kids who have other health conditions like asthma. It’s important to let the pediatrician know if you think your child may have the flu.
- Manage the symptoms. The most important things your little patient needs are plenty of rest and fluids. Give a baby plenty of breast milk or formula. Try to feed more frequently, giving smaller amounts more frequently. Pedialyte may be used if your baby is not taking milk. Serve an older child plenty of fluids such as water and juice, oral electrolyte solution, or ice pops. Don't give any liquids that have caffeine. There aren’t a lot of over-the-counter cold or flu meds that are safe for young children, but you can try giving acetaminophen or, for kids older than 6 months, ibuprofen. (Do NOT give children aspirin because of the danger of Reye's syndrome.) They can help bring down a fever and ease aches and pains. If your child has a bad cough, your doctor may also prescribe cough medicine. Use a humidifier in your child's bedroom to keep it moist to ease a stuffy nose. Remove mucus from their nose with a bulb syringe, or if they’re older, get them to blow it out. You can thin mucus with saline nasal spray and reduce nasal congestion with saline nasal gel. Give them a warm bath. Dress them in light clothing, and keep their room cool.
- Ask about antiviral drugs. They’re prescription medications that can treat the flu by preventing the virus from multiplying inside the body. But to work well, your child has to start taking them ASAP -- within 48 hours of when symptoms first appear. They’ll probably take the medicine -- which comes in pill, liquid, or inhaler form -- for 5 days. Antiviral drugs can make their flu symptoms milder and help them get better faster. Studies also say they make people less likely to get other serious health problems, like pneumonia.
- Know when to get help. It’s important to pay attention to any signs of flu complications. Alert your pediatrician if your child has a high fever for more than 48 hours, is getting sicker, or is not better. (That’s over 101 F in kids who are at least 3 months old -- for younger kids, call the doctor for any fever). Other red flags include signs of dehydration (dry eyes and mouth, peeing very little), unusual breathing (wheezing, panting, or trouble taking a deep breath), or a bluish tint to the lips or face. You should also call the doctor if your child seems “out of it” or won’t eat or drink.
Call 911 if your child:
- Has a seizure
- Isn't alert
- Has trouble breathing
- Has blue lips
- Is under 3 months old
- Has a fever of 104 F or higher
When Can They Go Back to School?
The flu is very contagious, so it’s important to keep your child home if they start feeling sick. Once their fever has been gone for at least 24 hours -- without them taking fever-reducing medication -- it’s safe to send them back to the classroom.
Make sure all children older than 6 months of age -- and all adults they come in contact with -- get a flu vaccine every year.
Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on December 01, 2020
CDC: “Cold versus Flu,” “Influenza Symptoms,” “Flu Symptoms & Complications,” “Children, the Flu, and the Flu Vaccine,” “Children and Flu Antiviral Drugs,” “Flu Treatment.”
Massachusetts Department of Public Health: “Cold vs. Flu: How to Tell the Difference.”