What is seasonal flu and how do I prevent it?
Fortunately, there is a flu vaccine available. Estimates indicate the flu shot prevents about 5 million people from getting the flu every year. Still, most recent reports indicate only 37% of adults received a flu vaccine.
Whether you receive a flu vaccine or not, one of the most important things you can do to prevent the flu is to practice good hand hygiene! Seems too simple to be true, but you need to do more than a quick rinse:
- Use soap and wash hands a minimum of 20 seconds
- Wash hands frequently, especially after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, and before eating
- Clean/disinfect surfaces/objects often
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth—it is amazing how many times we do this without realizing it. My awakening came after cutting jalapeno peppers as my face started to burn.
How do I prevent coronavirus?
There is not yet a vaccine for coronavirus, though one is predicted for 2021. However, the good news is, the same hand hygiene tips above are essential in preventing coronavirus.
How do I know if I have the flu or coronavirus?
Many symptoms are shared by both flu and coronavirus:
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
Your history can give an indication of which virus you contracted. For one thing, seasonal flu is much more common. However, you would want to mention to your healthcare provider if you have been exposed to an infected person, had recent travel, or are in close contact with animals including bats.
There are laboratory tests to detect flu, most commonly “rapid influenza diagnostic tests” (RIDTs). The CDC developed test kits for coronavirus available at this writing to about 200 labs in the US.
Why do some people die from the flu or coronavirus while others do not?
There are some conditions that put you at greater risk of complications from both seasonal flu and coronavirus:
- Age (children younger than 2 or adults 65 or older)
- BMI >40
- Comorbidities such as:
- Autoimmune diseases or chemo
- Heart disease (including hypertension)
- Chronic lung disease
- Kidney, liver, or neuro disorders
How do I know if I’m in trouble?
Life threatening complications of both viruses include:
- ARDS (Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome)
- Septic shock
You should be feeling better in a week, with symptoms tapering off within 2 weeks. Let your healthcare provider know right away if you experience the following:
- Symptoms go on longer than 2 weeks
- Feeling worse after you start feeling better
- Unable to drink enough water to stay hydrated
- A fever for more than 3 days, or a fever returns. Every household should have an electronic thermometer.
- Secondary infections often settle in the lungs, so monitor for the following:
- Increased shortness of breath
- Increased sputum (from a dry cough to a productive one)
- Pulse oximetry < 90%. Using light from a clip-on device, a pulse oximeter measures the percent of oxygen saturation in red blood cells (SaO2). I mention it because the devices have become so affordable and give objective measurement of how your heart and lungs are functioning. I do not endorse any products, but here are some examples of devices with good reviews for under $25:
- Innovo Deluxe Fingertip Pulse Oximeter with Plethysmograph and Perfusion Index
- Zacurate Pro Series 500DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter Blood Oxygen Saturation Monitor
- ClinicalGuard CMS 50-DL Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
- Concord Sapphire Fingertip Pulse Oximeter
- Deluxe SM-110 Two Way Display Finger Pulse Oximeter
- Mibest Silver Dual Color OLED Finger Pulse Oximeter
In sum, both the flu and coronavirus deserve serious attention, but with proper prevention, detection, treatment, and monitoring strategies, serious complications can be averted. Be well!