How NOT to get the flu: A guide to germ warfare


Published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 at 11:59 p.m.

Facts

To get a flu vaccine

The Alachua County Health Department offers flu vaccines on a walk-in basis (no appointments taken) weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at its offices, 224 SE 24th St. (just north of the Food Lion).
The shot costs $20, unless you have Medicare Part B without an HMO attachment (those who do must present their Medicare Part B card along with any supplemental insurance card, a photo ID and Social Security card, and the health department will then file for reimbursement).
The health department also offers a pneumonia vaccine for those 65 and over and for those under 65 with a chronic illness. The shot vaccinates against 23 types of pneumonia. Unless you are covered by Medicare or Medicare Part B, the pneumonia vaccine costs $43.
Students can get needle-free vaccine Alachua County school students will have access to a free and needle-free flu vaccine until the Thanksgiving holidays.
The FluMist vaccine is sprayed into the nose. Children will not be allowed to get FluMist without a signed consent form.
Information about the FluMist vaccine, the parental consent form and a copy of the vaccination schedule are available online at www.sbac.edu or by calling 334-7950. Parents must turn in signed consent forms at least a week before the vaccination will be given at their child's school.
For more information, call 334-7950.
Cold vs. flu The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but are caused by different viruses.
The flu typically is worse than a cold, with symptoms that include fever, body aches, fatigue and dry cough more intense than with a cold.
People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose.
The flu by the numbers On average in the United States, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year. About 36,000 die annually from the flu.
Adults average two to four colds a year; children typically get six to 10.
More than 200 viruses are known to cause symptoms of the common cold.

Pass the tissues: Cold and flu season is here.
Respiratory viruses thrive from late fall to early spring. And with kids bringing home all sorts of crud from school, falling temperatures driving us indoors and holiday gatherings around the corner, it may seem like there's no escape from those nasty bugs. But there are things you can do to help ward off illness - and steps you can take to ease your suffering if you do fall ill. Here's a guide to cold and flu season 2006.
Get vaccinated The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year, experts say.
That shouldn't be too tough this flu season. Vaccine manufacturers plan to produce more than 100 million doses for the U.S. market - a record amount. About 75 million doses are expected to be distributed by the end of October.
People at high risk of complications from flu are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated every year. Those include children 6 months to 5 years old, people 50 and older, pregnant women, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions and people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
Since flu bugs are continuously changing, a new vaccine is formulated for each season. For healthy people 5 to 49, a nasal-spray vaccine offers an alternative to the flu shot.
Keeping clean Washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways to stop the spread of germs.
"I think, unfortunately, people hear it so much they don't actually hear it anymore," says wellness expert Charlotte Waters.
A blink-and-you'll-miss-it rinse won't do. Wash for about 15 seconds - about the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.
Be sure to wash or use a hand sanitizer after handling equipment in the office that's used by more than one person, such as phones.
Other commonsense steps to prevent getting sick: Rest, eat right, exercise, keep your stress levels down and avoid crowds - all things that can be more challenging during the holiday season.
"And if you're sick," Waters says, "really do everybody a favor and stay home."
Natural remedies People swear by various natural cold remedies, though there's little science backing them.
Echinacea, used to prevent or treat colds and other infections, is overrated, says Dr. Joel Klein, of the Klein Center for Holistic Medicine. "There's some evidence it may work as a prevention kind of thing to boost the immune system, but once the cold is there, it doesn't seem to make that much of a difference."
Studies conflict over whether another popular remedy, vitamin C, is helpful. Research concerning zinc also varies. "Zinc will help if you're zinc-deficient, and many people are," Klein says.
Zinc is an essential ingredient in Zicam Cold Remedy, a homeopathic remedy advertised as reducing the duration and severity of the common cold. Another popular remedy, Airborne cold tablets, also promises to shorten a cold through a combination of herbs and nutrients.
One old-fashioned answer: Grandma's chicken soup, which has been shown to help cold sufferers. Scientists say it eases congestion by increasing "nasal mucous velocity" and also contains an anti-inflammatory agent. Drinking lots of water and other fluids also helps loosen congestion.
Treating flu Four prescription antiviral medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating and preventing flu. However, guidelines issued this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise against two of them, amantadine and rimantadine, because data indicates influenza viruses are resistant to them.
For any of the drugs to be effective, they must be given within 48 hours of the onset of illness, experts say. And they're costly. They're best-suited for people at high risk of complications who need all they can get in their arsenal against the flu.
The benefits aren't that great for otherwise healthy people, experts say. The drugs, if working, reduce a bout with a flu by one day, on average, and can make people less contagious.
Over the counter Americans spend $3.5 billion annually on over-the-counter cough remedies, the Harvard Health Letter reported last year, but much of that money may be wasted.
Guidelines released in 2005 by the American College of Chest Physicians found little reason to reach for a bottle of cough medicine. The ACCP "cough committee" didn't endorse expectorants; studies of their effectiveness vary. Cough suppressants were found to provide short-term relief for chronic bronchitis symptoms, but weren't as effective on coughs caused by colds.
An allergy medicine, combining a decongestant with an older antihistamine such as diphenhydramine or chlorpheniramine, may be the most helpful in curbing a cough, the guidelines found.
For the most part, the Harvard Health Letter concluded, if you think a cold or cough medicine works, it probably won't hurt to stick with it. The American Academy of Family Physicians suggests getting a medicine that's only for the symptoms you have. For example, if you've just got a runny nose, don't pick a medicine that also treats coughs and headaches.
Defining flu Seasonal (or common) flu is a respiratory illness that can be transmitted person to person. Most people have some immunity, and a vaccine is available.
Avian (or bird) flu is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. The H5N1 variant is deadly to domestic fowl and can be transmitted from birds to humans. There is no human immunity, and no vaccine is available.
Pandemic flu is virulent human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can spread easily from person to person. Currently, there is no pandemic flu, but there is concern that a highly pathogenic strain of H5N1 could mutate and become the source of a pandemic.

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