Physician: Flu season in full swing, still time to get the flu shot

Flu season is in full swing and physicians urge everyone to get their flu shot if they have not already done so.

Dr. Chris Earnhardt, a family medicine physician, said the flu shot reduces a person’s likelihood of getting the illness by 50 to 70 percent.

“Every year is different and it depends on the strains that are circulating that year and how close they’ve been able to get those strains put into the flu shot,” he said. “I’ve definitely seen an uptick in the flu over the last six weeks. In previous years, we’ve seen a lot of flu in the late fall. This year, we’ve seen more of a late winter flu.”

The Louisiana Health Department reported Influenza activity has decreased slightly, but remains high in Louisiana.

People who have the flu usually come down with fever, chills, body aches and respiratory symptoms such as stuffy or runny nose, cough and a sore throat. Earnhardt said it is ideal to see a doctor within 48 hours of showing symptoms. The flu is a virus and, if caught early enough, can be treated with an anti-viral such as Tamiflu, which attacks the virus itself.

The respiratory and other symptoms are treated with Tylenol, an antihistamine and decongestant combination to dry up the sinuses and anti-inflammatories.
He sees patients from age 2 to the elderly, and while he’s seen an uptick in the flu, other illnesses such as the stomach virus or strep throat are no more than usual, he said.

“I’ve seen a few cases of strep throat but nothing to say that I’ve seen a big wave of it,” he said. “I’ve seen very little of the stomach virus here lately, no more than I would usually see. Some people who get a stomach virus just stay home and ride it out.”

Many stomach viruses will cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea and will run its course within 24 to 72 hours. Earnhardt says if he sees a patient with a
stomach virus, he will treat them with anti-nausea medicine and medicine to stop vomiting or diarrhea. If a patient has stomach cramps, he usually prescribes antispasmodics.

“With a stomach virus, you’re usually stuck with just waiting it out with supportive care,” he said.

For those who stay home and ride it out, frequent, small sips of water and electrolyte drinks will help.

“The fewer the carbs in the electrolyte drink, the less likely it is you’ll have or worsen diarrhea,” he said.

If it gets worse, hospitalization is the next step because the patient is usually dehydrated.

Strep throat is very contagious and causes the throat to become very red and inflamed. The most common symptom is a sore throat and fever, he said.

Prevention is key to stopping the spread of the flu or strep throat. Handwashing is very important, Earnhardt said, as well as staying away from people who have the flu or strep throat.

“It’s ideal for those who are sick to cough into their elbows and stay away from large crowds,” he said. “With the flu, it’s contagious from the day they start showing symptoms until about a week after.

“In general, eating healthy, getting enough rest and regular aerobic exercise can boost your immune system,” he continued. “Don’t get me wrong, we all can get sick, but those are ways to make it less likely.”

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