New Mexico officially has the flu. On Nov. 3, the state Department of Health announced that a McKinley County boy was diagnosed with the flu, and the department urged state residents to get vaccinated.
Albuquerque-area doctors, nurses and pharmacists say there’s still time to protect you and your family from the flu, and they also have advice about how to handle the illness if you’ve caught it.
First and foremost, get the flu vaccine. “It’s a good idea to get it as soon as you can,” says Gary Gijsbers, pharmacy manager for ABQ Health Partners.
If you didn’t get a shot when the vaccine was first distributed in September, don’t put it off any longer, he says. The vaccine takes full effect about two weeks after the shot, he says.
Even if you catch the flu after getting the vaccine, you’re likely to have a shorter and less intense illness than someone who did not get the vaccine.
This year, Gijsbers says ABQ Health Partners has distributed about 25,000 vaccines to its clinics, about 5,000 fewer than last year.
If you’re not thrilled about needles, there’s always nasal spray vaccines. But they aren’t for everyone, says Dr. John Iacuone, senior medical director of Lovelace Health Plan. They are only designed to work for people ages 2-49, he says, so “seniors really are not candidates for the nasal spray.”
Some who shouldn’t
A few people shouldn’t be vaccinated, Iacuone says, including people allergic to chicken eggs (because the vaccine manufacturing process uses them) and babies younger than 6 months.
Also, if you have a major infection or illness, you should wait until your symptoms go away before being vaccinated, Iacuone says. If you have allergies or the sniffles, that’s no reason to wait.
Other than getting vaccinated, you can prevent catching the flu by being diligent about washing your hands, says Dr. Roderick McVeety, medical director of the ABQ Health Partners urgent care system. Be especially sure to wash your hands before eating, and don’t touch your face with your fingers.
If you have the first symptoms of a cold or the flu, prevent yourself from spreading the germs by, again, washing your hands thoroughly and regularly, McVeety says. Cough into your elbow rather than your hand and don’t be afraid to stay home from work until you feel up to returning.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises staying away from work until 24 hours after your fever breaks.
When you have the flu, drink a lot of water, Iacuone says, and treat its symptoms with over-thecounter antihistamines, decongestants and acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) for aches and pains.
Doctors can prescribe antiviral medications to shorten the length of a flu illness, McVeety says, though these medications usually work best in patients who have had symptoms for less than two days. Even then, the medications tend to shorten the illness by only a day or two, he says. That’s why many doctors prefer to just let the illness work itself out.
But a few people should definitely call their doctor when they have the flu, McVeety says, including pregnant women, people older than 65, people with diabetes or HIV, children younger than 5, obese people and people with heart disease, lung disease or pulmonary problems.
In otherwise healthy people, the flu can lead to some pretty severe problems like pneumonia, so pay attention to your illness and seek medical care if your symptoms match those listed as emergency signs by the CDC.
Extra care with kids
Children are a bit different from adults, says Dr. Randall Knott, pediatrician and assistant professor in the Pediatric Clinic at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. For one, they have more to worry about than just the flu, such as the whooping cough. (If you’re going to be around an infant soon and haven’t had the Tdap vaccine, do everyone a favor and get it.)
Every child older than 6 months should have the flu vaccine, Knott says. This is especially important in school-age children, who are more contagious and contagious for a longer time than adults.
“The main thing is, make sure the kids are washing their hands all the time,” says Richard Blair, a nursing supervisor at the UNM clinic.
Pay attention to a child’s fever, he says. In infants, take your child to the doctor with a fever over 100.3 degrees; the threshold for older children is 103 degrees.
Knott says not to give cold medicines to children until they’re 4 years old. For congestion, infants can be treated with a suction bulb and older children do well with a nonmedicated saline spray.
Flu emergency signs
Most otherwise healthy people with the flu have a mild illness that doesn’t require any medical attention. However, talk to a medical provider if you or someone you care for exhibits signs of the flu and is a pregnant woman, senior over 65, very young child, or has a condition like diabetes or asthma.
Even outside these groups, if you’re concerned about your illness, call a medical provider.
These are signs of an emergency, when you should seek immediate medical attention:
Fast breathing or trouble breathing
Bluish skin color
Not drinking enough fluids
Not waking up or not interacting
Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Fever with a rash
In INFANTS , pay special attention to these signs:
Being unable to eat
Has trouble breathing
Has no tears when crying
Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
Severe or persistent vomiting
Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
These are some signs you may have the flu, but not all need to occur at once. Fever (usually high) Sore throat Headache Runny or stuffy nose Tiredness (can be extreme) Body aches Cough Diarrhea and vomiting
Source: Albuquerque Journal