The Flu and You

By Dr. Nick Walters
Mission Hospital

Influenza Facts

Every year at this time there is an increase in influenza (grippe) cases. This year keep the grippe from getting a grip on you by learning what it is and how you can prevent it.

Five to 10 percent of adults and 20 to 30 percent of children worldwide contract influenza each year. Of these, 5 million become seriously ill and 500,000 die worldwide from influenza yearly 1.

People with influenza will often have fever, cough, body aches and sore throat. Some will have a runny nose and others might have diarrhea or vomiting. The onset of symptoms is usually sudden.

Influenza is a virus that causes an infection of the respiratory tract, including the nose, throat, sinuses, bronchi and lungs. It is more severe than the common cold because it can destroy cells in the respiratory tract making it easier to get a secondary infection in addition to the first infection. The secondary infection is often caused by bacteria. Common secondary infections include bronchitis and pneumonia. It is often these second infections that cause a person to be hospitalized and can cause death; although the influenza virus itself can cause death.

There are three groups of influenza viruses: A, B and C. Types A and B are the most common and are the causes for most seasonal influenza and influenza outbreaks, including the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009 which was a type A influenza worldwide outbreak, called a pandemic2.

Prevention of Influenza Infection

The best natural ways of preventing influenza are hand washing, daily habits and boosting your immunity. The most common way influenza is spread by droplets that are sneezed or coughed out and land in the noses or mouths of others near them. To prevent this, do not stay closer than 2 meters from someone with influenza for very long. Another common way of spread is when the droplets land on things we touch, and then we touch those same objects and rub our eyes or noses. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your hands to your face unless you wash them first. To boost your immunity, get enough sleep so you do not feel tired during the daytime (usually 7 to 8 hours a night) and eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. To prevent depressing your immunity, avoid foods with a lot of oil and sugar. Avoid stress and learn healthy ways of dealing with stress, such as exercise.

Influenza Vaccine

The influenza vaccine is the most effective way of preventing influenza infection1. It can be given from 6 months of age and upward. The World Health Organization recommends people at highest risk of getting a complication of influenza infection receive the vaccine. These include: pregnant women (the vaccine is safe during pregnancy), children 6 months to 5 years old, older adults from age 65 years old and up, people with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and cancer and health care workers2.

Vaccine Safety

Influenza vaccines have been given to hundreds of millions of people worldwide over the years and are quite safe but caution must be used for some patients with certain chronic medical conditions. The best is to discuss it with your family physician.


Influenza is treatable with influenza specific medicine; however, antibiotics do not treat influenza and should only be used to treat a secondary bacterial infection. Influenza medication should only be given to someone who has been tested to see if they have influenza. This is usually checked by using a nasal swab and examining the mucus for influenza. The test usually takes less than 30 minutes to get results. Influenza medication is most effective if used within the first 48 to 72 hours after the onset of symptoms so seek treatment early if you have symptoms of influenza.

Besides medications, when you have influenza, you need to rest, drink plenty of water, eat healthy foods and stay at home until the fever is gone. If you get chest pain, difficulty breathing, have a change in the color of the sputum or fever returning after getting better, you need to see your doctor right away to make sure you do not have a secondary bacteria infection.

See your doctor today to find out how you can keep flu free this flu season.