Vaccine alternatives combating the flu

Due to a nationwide shortage of flu vaccine, people are advised to speak with their doctors about other treatments, particularly seniors who are more likely to be infected by the flu.

Due to a nationwide shortage of flu vaccine, people are advised to speak with their doctors about other treatments, particularly seniors who are more likely to be infected by the flu.

With this season’s flu vaccine shortage, many Americans may be left wondering what other options they have to help stave off the flu.

Each year, 35 million to 50 million Amer-icans come down with the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of flu-related illnesses, according to a recent study.

Seniors particularly are affected.

And experts are now predicting this year’s flu season will be severe.

While vaccine is the first line of de-fense, Dr. Donald Perlman, assistant clinical professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, said there are steps that can be taken to help decrease chances of getting the flu:

• Ask your doctor about antivirals.

Prescription antiviral medications particularly can be effective in preventing the spread of flu within a household or office when a family member or co-worker is infected.

Typically, they must be taken within two days of exposure.

“It is important for the public to know that prescription antiviral medications can play an important role in the prevention and treatment of influenza,” Perlman said.

• Monitor the flu in your area. To keep informed of when the flu is hitting your area, search the Internet.

Several easy-to-use sites are available where anyone can enter their zip code to see the number of people with the flu in their area, along with other information.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and keep hands clean. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth; to prevent, wash hands often for 20 seconds with warm, soapy water.

Also, avoid using antibacterial soaps, which do nothing to block viruses and, many experts believe, may encourage the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

• Keep your immune system healthy. Get plenty of sleep and maintain a healthy diet, including lots of fruits and vegetables, yogurt and water.

If you think you have the flu, Perlman suggests:

• See your doctor. At the first sign of flu symptoms, such as the sudden onset of profound weakness and body aches and pains accompanied by chills, fever and cough, see your doctor.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help lessen the time you are sick.

• Stay home. Be considerate of others. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick to prevent spreading the flu.

• Practice respiratory etiquette. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.

• Don’t smoke. Statistics show that heavy smokers get more severe colds and more frequent ones.

Even being around smoke profoundly zaps the immune system.

Smoke dries out your nasal passages and paralyzes cilia. These are the delicate hairs that line the mucous membranes in your nose and lungs, and with their wavy movements, sweep cold and flu viruses out of the nasal passages. Experts contend that one cigarette can paralyze cilia for as long as 30 to 40 minutes.

Also, know if you have the flu or just a common cold. There is a difference.

The flu can be much more dangerous, leading to more serious health problems.

Plus, seniors with heart problems or other health conditions can suffer even more from the influenza bug.

So with a shortage of flu vaccine this year, people should be especially aware of the symptoms. Flu symptoms include head-ache, chills, dry cough, body aches, fever, stuffy nose and sore throat.

Call your doctor if you have any signs of flu and:

• Your fever lasts; you may have a more serious infection.

• You have breathing or heart problems or other serious health problems.

• You are taking drugs to fight cancer or other drugs that weaken your body’s natural defenses against illness.

• You feel sick and don’t seem to be getting better.

• You have a cough that begins to produce phlegm.

• You are worried about your health.

Doctors have flu tests available that can provide an answer in about 15 minutes, so patients can know before they walk out of the doctor’s office if they have the flu or not.

In effect, patients get the appropriate treatment right away and get well sooner.

Benefits of taking the test may include:

• It can reduce cost and eliminate unnecessary diagnostics.

• It will allow the physician to prescribe appropriate antiviral medication sooner.

• It reduces unnecessary use of antibiotics.

• It assists in the surveillance of influenza A and influenza B.