BY KYLEIGH ROESSNER RN-BSN
The data is in: The flu season is off with a bang.
More than 10,000 cases — with more expected — have been reported throughout the United States since the end of last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the numbers appear to be climbing. When it comes to family health, what can you do to stay safe this flu season? It starts with knowing how and when to see your doctor.
Signs and Symptoms
When you're faced with sniffling, body aches, fever and chills, it can be hard to tell if your loved one has the flu — which requires a doctor's help to treat — or a cold that may get better on its own in a few days. Here is a comparison of common flu and cold symptoms, as described by the CDC:
Yes, for 3–4 days
Mild if present
Moderate to severe
Moist and productive
Dry and hacking
Not typical, mild
Moderate to severe
Over a few days
Mild or Moderate
Moderate to severe
Determining what is ailing you is difficult for medical providers as well. Symptoms are far from definitive. For that reason, it's helpful to visit your doctor promptly for diagnostic testing so you receive the appropriate treatment.
How the Flu is Diagnosed
If someone in your family has flu-like symptoms, you should seek an early and accurate diagnosis. Most flu tests require a sample from your nasal passages.
The process helps ensure your doctor provides the correct treatment. It also provides valuable information to epidemiologists studying the prevalence of different types of flu.
Importance of Correct Treatment
First and foremost, getting the right treatment for flu helps you get back on your feet sooner. The CDC explains that antiviral medications are most effective in the first two days of the flu. Even after that, taking the medication can lead to fewer complications.
Taking flu medication also avoids another troubling problem — the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics, which contributes to antibiotic resistance.
Occasionally, a well-meaning physician may prescribe an antibiotic to a person who has the flu for their runny nose, cough and headache, reasonably thinking they may have a sinus infection.
However, antibiotics (which fight bacteria) will be completely ineffective. The flu is caused by a virus, not bacteria.
So not only will you not find relief, the CDC explains that whenever antibiotics are used, it can contribute to antibiotic resistance by killing germs that are sensitive to that antibiotic, creating an opening for bacteria that survives the medication to flourish and spread. Bacteria can share their resistance with other bacteria, increasing the number of resistant pathogens. This has made some antibiotics less effective, extending the amount of time that people feel ill and requiring scientists to devise newer and stronger antibiotics to combat the newer and stronger bacteria.
A correct flu diagnosis decreases the chances of being prescribed antibiotics inappropriately, helping to prevent resistance. This way, antibiotics will be more likely to work for you and others when you really need them.
How to Stay Healthy
So, what is a person who is concerned with family health to do? First, take all of your standard preventative measures before anyone gets sick:
- Take your family for the flu shot if they're eligible.
- Remind everyone to wash their hands regularly.
- Get good sleep every night.
- Cook healthy meals to provide vitamins and nutrients to support your immune system.
If flu symptoms have already begun, don't diagnose yourself. See your doctor.
Finally, if you or your loved one do have the flu, stay home and get well. This will help prevent the spread of the condition to others and you to feel better sooner.