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Seasonal Flu Complications: Are You at Risk?

Seasonal Flu
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Doctors are calling the , with widespread outbreaks occurring in at least 35 states, as opposed to the 2013 flu season, which was considered more severe than most. That doesn’t mean people aren’t getting extremely sick from the flu virus this year, though. In fact, given that H1N1 — the strain that reached pandemic proportions and killed thousands of people in 2009 — is the most common type of flu doctors are seeing, the risk for complications leading to hospitalization is higher than ever. Does that mean if you get the flu, you’re guaranteed a trip to the hospital? The short answer is “no.” While there’s always a chance a seemingly simple illness can turn serious, certain groups of people are at a greater risk of flu complications than others. Thus, these people need to take extra precautions to avoid getting seriously ill. Adults over the age of 65, young children and pregnant women have some of the highest risk rates for seasonal flu-related illnesses, as do those who have asthma, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and compromised immune systems. The H1N1 strain of the flu is more dangerous to just about everyone, especially since younger, reasonably healthy people (i.e., those in their 30s and 40s without any other risk factors) are among the patients who have died from the virus.

Diagnosis and Treatment

For the majority of people, coming down with the flu means a few days of misery. The worst-case scenario is that it takes a few weeks to regain all of your energy. The flu causes a high fever, extreme fatigue and weakness, aching joints and muscles, headache, sore throat and a dry cough; in some cases, you may have some slight nasal congestion. While many of the symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, the presence of a fever, and the fact that the flu usually comes on in a matter of hours, is generally a sign you’re dealing with something more serious than a cold. In the case of H1N1, gastrointestinal issues join the list of symptoms. Some doctors describe it: if you’re feeling fine, and then suddenly feel like you’ve been hit by a train, you probably have the flu. Because of the possibility of the flu turning into something more serious, we recommend seeing a doctor for a diagnosis as soon as possible. If you’re diagnosed in 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, prescription antiviral drugs can reduce the length and severity of your symptoms — and the likelihood of a potentially fatal complication. If it’s been longer than 48 hours, it’s still important to see a doctor to rule out any complications. In many cases, your doctor will recommend over-the-counter medications you can purchase at a discount from Canadian Pharmacy Meds to help ease your symptoms.

Potential Complications

Doctors we’ve talked with note the most common flu complications are bacterial infections, particularly pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs. Pneumonia makes breathing extremely difficult, and causes weakness, cough, and fever. While most pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics and doesn’t require hospitalization, for someone with a pre-existing condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD,) pneumonia can be life-threatening. Other less severe, but still potentially dangerous, infections related to the flu include bronchitis, sinusitis, tonsillitis and ear infections. Again, these infections usually clear up in a matter of days with antibiotics and rest. In rare cases, we’ve seen the flu lead to potentially fatal infections including septic shock, a blood infection and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain. The virus has also been linked to meningitis, a dangerous infection of the brain and spinal cord. These complications are generally rare, but for anyone with one of the risk factors, the potential for them is a cause for concern.

Preventing the Flu

The best way to prevent complications from the flu is to avoid getting sick in the first place. That usually means getting a flu shot. Our pharmacists, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone over 6 months old get an annual flu vaccine. An annual shot is important as the prevalent flu viruses change each year and immunity declines over time. Proper hygiene is also important for stopping the spread of flu germs. the virus can live up to 48 hours on hard surfaces, so wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before eating or touching your mouth, nose or eyes. You can purchase over-the-counter remedies, such as the Flu Buster PD, which may also help boost your immunity or, at least, reduce the likelihood of flu symptoms taking you out of commission for more than a few days. Flu season usually peaks in February each year, but we’ve seen cases reported well into the spring. Whether or not you have any risk factors, practice proper hygiene and follow your doctor’s vaccination recommendations. If nothing else, you’ll avoid having to spend a few days in bed feeling miserable.  

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