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Winter health | Flu season

Flu season has made an early arrival this year

Joanne Richard
Special to The Weather Network

Thursday, December 6, 2018, 4:19 PM - First the bad news: The season has arrived early this year.

Now for the good news: It’s looking like it’s going to be on the mild side! “The flu season that just finished in the Southern Hemisphere over their winter [our summer] was mild, so that makes us optimistic about the upcoming influenza season here in Canada,” says Dr. Jeffrey Pernica, division head of infectious diseases at McMaster University.

According to Pernica, there are two kinds of influenza virus –  A and B –  and there are two different strains of A that circulate, H1N1 and H3N2. “H1N1, which tends to produce less severe disease, is what predominated in Australia, and is one of the reasons their season was mild. So far, Canada has seen mostly H1N1 as well.”

Dr. Mitchell Shulman says he’s already seeing the flu rear its ugly head. “We started seeing flu at the end of October, we rarely see flu that early. Usually it starts mid November and it runs until March, and already I’ve seen some very sick people coming into the emergency room where I work, infected with the influenza virus.”

According to Shulman, attending physician in the emergency department at Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal and a McGill University professor, the best way to protect yourself against the influenza virus is to “live on an island as a hermit without any other people around.” Since most people aren’t willing to do that, Schulman says the “next best shot is to take good care of yourself so your immunity is strong, wash your hands often and use the vaccine program that’s available in your community.” The flu vaccine may be imperfect, but it’s better than nothing, so get it now.

Actually, this year’s influenza vaccine looks like a winner. Pernica says the flu vaccine contains antigens (proteins) from the H1N1 A strain, the H3N2 A strain, and B strains and the more similar the antigens are in the vaccine to the influenza viruses that are circulating, the better the vaccine works. “This year, the H1N1 vaccine antigens are very similar to the circulating H1N1 strains, so we expect the flu vaccine to work well.” 

The vaccine is widely available free of charge in pharmacies and physician offices and it’s a good idea for everyone, but especially for people that are more likely to get very sick with the flu. “These include young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and anyone with a significant medical issue, including diabetes, asthma, significant obesity, lung problems, and neurologic problems, among others,” says Pernica. Family members of people that are more likely to get very sick from the flu should also be vaccinated, to protect their loved ones.  

In addition to getting the flu shot, people should avoid close contact with those that have flu-like symptoms, including fever, coughing, sneezing, and body aches, adds Pernica.

Staying away from sickies is a good idea but we all know that we run a germ gauntlet every day. Viruses are tough to avoid when they’re flying around in the office, and there’s a good chance many of us will be downed by nasty cold or flu symptoms. 

Sore throats and headaches can be a pain but it’s the congestion and icky mucus that show no mercy and can wear you out. Just how do you get proper rest and even eat when your struggling with a runny nose, nasty cough and mega mucus? Who wants to go to work congested, coughing and feverish – and no one wants you there either. 

You don’t have to take sick lying down! While products out there do not cure or shorten the length of the cold or flu, they can offer big relief, and a good night’s sleep. Expectorants can improve chest congestion to some degree by thinning the mucus in your respiratory system, along with non-pharmaceutical options like a humidifier or a hot bath can also temporarily relieve symptoms.

Guaifenesin is an expectorant contained in a number of cough syrups and other cold medications. This ingredient helps master the mayhem by helping to thin mucus, making it easier to clear out the respiratory system when coughing. Among many over-the-counter products in Canada with guaifenesin, Mucinex has the largest dosage, and is the only one that lasts at least 12 hours. It relieves nasal and chest congestion, thins and loosens mucus and controls coughing, along with relieving headache, fever, and sore throat.

Be sure to consult your physician or pharmacist when starting over the counter cold and cough products. You want to choose the right product and ensure there are no interactions with your current medications.

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