An unusual form of flu strikes early and probably lasting longer means this flu season is shaping up to be a doozy. The last time the flu season started this early was in 2003. That year it turned out to be a fairly severe flu season. This year so far at least 1,300 people have died from the flu so far this season, according to an estimate released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday. The CDC reports that there have been 23,000 flu-related hospitalizations and more than 2.6 million illnesses. and with 24,00 people hospitalized this year (including yours truly). The numbers in Colorado are just starting to come in with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment reporting 206 people hospitalized with influenza B so far. Influenza B is usually only seen in springtime yet there have been cases already being reported since September making it a very unusual flu season already. Read more for tips on how to treat it and when you need to go to the doctor.
Some Basics About Flu and Colds
Each year, Americans get more than 1 billion colds, and between 5 and 20 percent of Americans get the flu. The two diseases have some symptoms in common, and both are caused by viruses. However, they are different conditions, and the flu is more severe. Unlike the flu, colds generally don’t cause serious complications, such as pneumonia, or lead to hospitalization.
No vaccine can protect you against the common cold, but vaccines can protect you against the flu. Everyone over the age of 6 months should be vaccinated against the flu each year. Vaccination is the best protection against getting the flu.
Prescription antiviral drugs may be used to treat the flu in people who are very ill or who are at high risk of flu complications. They’re not a substitute for getting vaccinated. Vaccination is the first line of defense against the flu; antivirals are the second. If you think you’ve caught the flu, you may want to check with your health care provider to see whether antiviral medicine is appropriate for you. Call promptly. The drugs work best if they’re used early in the illness.
To find out more about flu and colds,
Lifestyle and home remedies from the Mayo clinic
If you do come down with the flu, these measures may help ease your symptoms:
- Drink plenty of liquids. Choose water, juice and warm soups to prevent dehydration.
- Rest. Get more sleep to help your immune system fight infection. You may need to change your activity level, depending on your symptoms.
- Consider pain relievers. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), to combat the achiness associated with influenza. Children and teens recovering from flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal condition.
To help control the spread of influenza in your community, stay home and keep sick children home until the fever has been gone for 24 hours.
When is it Time to Go to the Hospital
Later in this post and in posts to come, we will talk about Integrative Medicine approaches to treating the flu. However, this is a warning not to screw around with influenza. If the patient develops a fever that will not come down or starts having trouble breathing it is time to get to the emergency room.
The Common Cold and Complementary Health Approaches
Colds are a leading reason for visiting a doctor and for missing school or work. To prevent or treat colds some people turn to complementary health approaches such as herbs, vitamins, and minerals. This issue provides information on “what the science says” about some of these practices for the common cold, including zinc, vitamin C, echinacea, probiotics, nasal saline irrigation, buckwheat honey, geranium extract, and garlic.
What the Science Says:
The Common Cold and Complementary Health Approaches
Oral zinc lozenges may reduce the duration of the common cold when it started within 24 hours and taken for a time period of fewer than 2 weeks. Intranasal zinc has been linked to a severe and permanent loss of smell and should not be used.
For most people, vitamin C does not prevent colds and only slightly reduces their length and severity. Vitamin C is generally considered safe except when taken in high doses.
Although there is the potential that some preparations of echinacea are more effective than placebo for treating colds, the overall evidence for clinically relevant treatment effects is weak. Results of individual prophylaxis trials consistently show positive (though not significant) trends, although potential effects are of questionable clinical relevance.
Echinacea products vary widely, containing different echinacea species, plant parts, and preparations. The many clinical trials of echinacea for colds have also varied widely, in terms of products studied, research methods, and study results.
Currently, not enough research has been conducted to determine whether probiotics may prevent colds, and little is known about their long-term safety.
Nasal Saline Irrigation
Nasal saline irrigation may have benefits for relieving symptoms of the common cold in children and adults and may have potential benefits for relieving some symptoms of acute upper respiratory infection.
Chinese Herb Pin Yin: Feng MI
Research suggests that buckwheat honey is superior to placebo for reducing the frequency of cough, reducing cough, and improving the quality of sleep for children with the common cold. Honey should not be used in children younger than 1 year of age because of the risk of botulism.
Geranium extract (Pelargonium sidoides)
Chinese Herb Pin Yin: Tian Shu Kui
Geranium extract (Pelargonium sidoides) may be helpful in relieving symptoms of acute bronchitis, acute sinusitis, and the common cold in children and adults, but the quality of evidence is low.
Chinese Herb Pin Yin: Da Suan
A recent Cochrane review concluded that there is insufficient clinical trial evidence regarding the effects of garlic in preventing or treating the common cold.
Ban Lan Gen
First Clinical Trial of Ban Lan Gen Herb in Treatment of the Flu
Ban Lan Gen has been used in Chinese medicine for about 1000 years and is now slated to undergo its first random control trial, the gold standard in evidence-based medicine. Chinese Herbs and the Flu is the focus of scientists at Guangzhou Medical University they seek to study the efficacy and safety of Ban-Lan-Gen granules in the treatment against influenza A and B viruses in China. Scientists have started a large-scale clinical trial to comprehensively evaluate the effectiveness and safety of BLG against influenza infection, based on the results of a pilot study. This clinical trial will serve as an example for the study of other traditional herbal medicines in evidence-based clinical trials.