Offering cramping, sweats, fever, exhaustion, and perhaps the dreaded vomiting, the influenza is an harbinger of many things, none of them pleasant. Experts are now predicting that this season’s flu epidemic may be one of the worst on record if infections continue at the current rate.
Heading into the new year, the California Department of Public Health stated that influenza activity had reached “widespread” levels and was continuing to increase. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now estimates that so far this season there have been at least 9.7 million flu illnesses, 87,000 hospitalizations and 4,800 deaths from flu. Compare those numbers to the 171.7 million doses of flu vaccine that have been distributed, according to the CDC, which states: “The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated every year.”
Medical Director of Hospital Epidemiology at Cedars-Sinai Jonathan Grein, MD, told the Courier this week that the hospital had witnessed “a sharp uptick in influenza activity” over the last two to three weeks, which he said was in line with what’s being reported nationally.
“It’s still not too late to get the flu vaccine if you haven’t already, since peak flu activity may last for several more weeks and the season could last for several more months,” he said. “If you do develop flu symptoms, stay at home to rest and don’t come into work, which will help to prevent spreading it to others.”
In addition to getting vaccinated each year, to prevent contracting the seasonal flu the CDC recommends an array of good health habits, such as washing your hands, to help stop the spread of germs. Other recommendations include: avoid close contact with people who are sick; stay home when sick; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing; avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth; clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces; and practice self-care, making sure to get plenty of sleep, fluids, nutritious foods, and physical activity.
“Most people who get the flu will recover on their own at home, but call your doctor if you have other medical conditions, such as heart disease or a weakened immune system, which can increase your risk of flu-related complications,” Dr. Grein advised.
Cedars in general recommends rest and taking a Tylenol as a home-remedy for the flu. If more serious symptoms develop, then you should seek medical attention immediately.
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) is now cautioning families to be vigilant when it comes to taking “natural” supplements, emphasizing that over-the-counter supplements claiming to reduce flu symptoms can be especially dangerous for children.
One of the most recent such home remedies to make headlines, which CHLA advises against taking, is elderberry syrup. Derived from the elderberry plant and commonly found in “natural” over-the-counter supplements, the syrup is marketed to treat or lessen the effects of cold and flu symptoms.
“The word remedy is typically a red flag for doctors. It’s not a medical term,” explained Dr. Michael Smit, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at CHLA. “With remedies, we often don’t know what’s inside of them. And in the case of elderberry, some users have unknowingly ingested cyanide–a poisonous chemical that can be deadly.”
CHLA Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Vikram Arnand recommended using honey to soothe a sore throat, either taking it on its own or putting it in a warm tea.
“Sleep. Lots and lots of sleep and staying hydrated should help you feel better sooner,” said Dr. Anand.