SV Herald: Clearing up Misconceptions about the Flu


Physicians Clear up Misconceptions about the Flu

By: Laura Renteria            lauren.renteria@myheraldreview.com

Published in the Sierra Vista Herald

Sept 27, 2017

(Chiricahua Community Health Center physicians clear up flu misconceptions)

SIERRA VISTA — Influenza is nothing to sneeze at, especially with flu season right around the corner.

Though the illness, more commonly known as the flu, is a yearly ailment, local doctors say the heap of misunderstandings surrounding the disease and its vaccine are reasons to clear the air and distinguish fact from fiction.

Thousands of people catch the virus every year. Statistics from Harvard Medical School puts flu hospitalizations nationwide at 200,000 annually. Each year there are 30,000 to 36,000 flu-related deaths.

Dr. Karen Crockett, director of adult and family medicine and laboratory services at Chiricahua Community Health Services, said the flu is nothing like the common cold, as some people believe. While the cold is caused by a variety of viruses, the flu is caused by a specific virus and is classified as a respiratory disease.

“When someone has a cold they may or may not have fever, they usually have a lot of nasal congestion or a runny nose,” Crockett said. “The flu, typically, does not present with a runny nose or the typical cold symptoms. It usually presents with a fever over 102 degrees, a dry cough and swollen lymph nodes. The cold usually last two or more weeks; the flu typically lasts less than a week.”

According to a fact sheet from the Cochise County Department of Health and Social Services, there are some key differences between cold and flu symptoms. It’s rare that a person will develop a fever if they have a cold, whereas the flu usually presents with a high fever. And, while the fever typically manifests with extreme exhaustion, that is never the case with the cold.

Because the flu is caused by a specific virus, there are certain strains people need to look out for. And since the flu mutates, each year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues new vaccines to combat a new strain — which is the reason physicians recommend an annual flu shot. There is a nasal spray available, but the CDC does not recommend it as an adequate measure of prevention this flu season.

But, every year, Crockett said a few patients tell her they never get vaccinated because they are convinced the flu shot gets them sick. This is a common misconception believed by many — it’s impossible to get sick from the flu shot.

“The flu vaccine is made from a killed virus; it’s not an active virus so it’s impossible to catch the flu from the vaccine,” she said. “I think many of the people who say this end up just catching a bad cold around the time they are getting a flu shot and they’re convinced that they got it from the vaccine.”

It’s important for people to familiarize themselves with symptoms since flu season is right around the corner, Crockett said. Typically, cases of flu typically begin appearing in October and last until March. However, Dr. Darlene Melk, director of community pediatrics at Chiricahua Community Health Centers, said her clinic saw cases well into May last year.

The best time to get the flu shot isn’t at the beginning of flu season, according to the experts.

“The flu vaccine elicits an immune response, just like any other vaccine, and produces antibodies to the illness. It takes the vaccine a little to build up efficient antibodies to fight the flu,” Crockett said.

Melk also recommended people receive the vaccine now, to help build up their immune systems before the season begins in October. That recommendation goes especially for families.

Though the flu is a common illness, it can be deadly for young children, seniors or people with respiratory and cardiac diseases, Melk said. Since the vaccine is only made for people older than 6 months, it’s important families get vaccinated to help protect those at-risk in their households. The flu can also be more difficult for children’s bodies to handle because they have smaller, more delicate respiratory systems, she said.

“If you have any amount of phlegm and mucus it can cause respiratory distress,” Melk said, noting that children with serious illness, like heart diseases or cerebral palsy, are also considered high-risk patients for flu complications. Melk said most people who die after getting the flu die from pneumonia.

“Every year there are deaths in pediatrics and in 80 percent of those deaths, children didn’t have the flu vaccine,” she said.

Both Melk and Crockett said the best way to prevent the flu – next to getting vaccinated – is through washing hands thoroughly and often. The flu is very contagious and can spread from person to person from a sneeze or cough, as well as touching the nose or mouth after touching an infected surface.

Though there hasn’t been a lethal form of flu in the area, both Melk and Crockett highly recommend getting the vaccine as well as taking sanitary precautions.

“We’ve been lucky but you never know unless you have some sort of protection,” Melk said.

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