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Health Matters: Bugged by the Flu

The flu season can last as late as May, so consider getting a flu vaccination now

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Nancy Morton, a registered nurse with Maxim Health Systems, gives a flu shot to Ryan Conrath (COM’08). Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

You know the symptoms — it starts with sneezing and headache, and before long you’re on the couch watching The Price Is Right and feeling as though your head is about to explode. You’ve got the flu.

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications every year, and 36,000 die from the flu, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The flu is so dangerous because it causes a severe inflammation of the bronchioles of the large airways,” says Mark Weber, a senior staff physician at Boston University’s Student Health Services (SHS). “Because of that, it can cause some difficulty in breathing and some serious coughing.”

This year’s season started slowly, but the ailment is hitting the Boston area harder than it has in the past two years, according to the Boston Globe. That’s because there are strains of the virus circulating that the flu vaccine can’t protect against.

The flu spreads through respiratory droplets from an infected person’s coughing or sneezing. It’s also possible to become infected by touching something that has the virus on it and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes. Flu symptoms may include a high fever, headache, fatigue, runny nose, sore throat, and coughing. If you develop flu-like symptoms or think you may have been exposed to the flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications that can help decrease the intensity and severity of symptoms, according to the CDC, if you have not already received the flu vaccine. The drugs must be started within the first 48 hours, however.

“First of all, for self-care, stay medicated for the fever and cough and minimize contact with others,” Weber says. “I also recommend warm baths and showers.” Often the best treatment for the flu is to wait it out, taking lots of fluids and getting plenty of rest.

To protect against the flu, avoid close contact with those who are sick, stay home and rest if you have symptoms, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands frequently.

The flu season can last as late as May, and a flu vaccination now can still be beneficial. Flu vaccinations — in the form of a shot or nasal spray — are available through SHS. For information, call 617-353-3575.

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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