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By Dr. Roger Hicks
The flu bug is here so get prepared
To your Health
People often ask, “What should I do if I feel like I am coming down with the flu?” Here are some things to consider.

Even though it sometimes means different things to some people, flu is short for influenza, a contagious illness caused by a specific group of viruses. Symptoms usually start suddenly and include fever, coughing, a sore throat, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue.

There are yearly outbreaks of influenza tend to occur in the winter months in climates like ours and at any time of year in the tropics. It arrived in Nevada County in December, early compared to last year when it did not really get underway until March.

Influenza can be serious, especially for young children, seniors and those with other medical conditions. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), every year thousands of people in the U.S. die from influenza or complications of it and thousands more are hospitalized.

The good news antiviral medications are available to treat it. Unlike antibiotics, which kill existing bacteria, antivirals prevent viruses from multiplying. To be effective, these medicines, known as neuraminidase inhibitors, must be started early in the illness, ideally within the first 48 hours. But they still can be helpful if started later, especially for those at high risk for complications, which includes children younger than 5, adults 65 and older, and people with underlying medical conditions. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses.

The list of underlying conditions to be concerned about includes diabetes, lung problems such as asthma or COPD, heart, kidney and liver conditions, neurological conditions, and immunosuppression, whether by cancer treatment or HIV infection. Pregnant women within two weeks of delivery and those with a body mass index of 40 or more and nursing homes are also at high risk. Treatment can mean the difference between having a mild illness or a severe one that requires hospitalization.

Vaccines also are available to prevent the flu. Because influenza viruses constantly change, a new vaccine is developed annually and the effectiveness varies from year to year. This year’s outbreak is caused mainly by the H3N2 strain of the Influenza A virus, and predictions are that this year’s vaccine will reduce the disease by only about one-third. This makes antiviral medications more important than ever. Other things that can help limit the spread of the flu are cough etiquette (covering your mouth and nose when coughing), frequent handwashing and staying home from work or school when you are ill and avoiding others when they are ill.

Dr. Roger Hicks is the president of the California Urgent Care Association and medical director for Yubadocs Urgent Care in Grass Valley.
Dr. Roger Hicks