The Great Flu Of '13...And How To Battle The Bug
So you have the flu. Welcome to the 2013 version of the influenza virus, a strain that has Queens residents rushing to doctors, hospital emergency rooms and pharmacies at an alarming rate.
People who have suffered through the 2013 flu will tell you, this isn’t any ordinary strain of the virus. If it has a name, it must be something like the Venutian Death Flu, and you know you have it when you try to push the setting on your electric blanket to “vaporize”.
There are other symptoms. Your teeth hurt. So does your hair. You lie in bed, helpless, subject to a constant pounding by billions of microscopic air molecules, drifting deliberately at your fever-riddled body.
Though people rarely die of the flu or colds and seldom develop complications from them, the discomfort they wreak can be debilitating, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported.
Health officials said this year’s strain of the flu is a particularly nasty one, Type A-H5N2, which tends to be slightly more severe, city Department of Health (DOH) officials said. It’s very similar to a virus that wreaked havoc in New York City in 2004, the officials said. “We’re in the middle of our annual flu epidemic, and this strain of the disease is making a lot of people sick with flu.”
The CDC reported that nationwide, approximately six percent of all emergency room patients are suffering from flu-related symptoms.
According to the Germ Tracker Web site, neighborhoods in Elmhurst are currently the hardest hit in Queens, with more people heading to hospitals for emergency care than anywhere else in the borough.
Health officials said the 2013 strain of the flu usually starts out as a cold with sniffles and a scratchy throat, sometimes accompanied by a nagging cough. But within hours, all that is combined with a sometimes high fever, chills, nausea, headache, body aches and a general groggy, “I’ve got to lie down before I fall down” feeling.
Doctors and meteorologists blame this outbreak of the flu on, in part, “dormant” weather patterns across the country this winter. Temperatures plunge into the 30s or low 40s for a day or two, they skyrocket into the 50s—a perfect atmosphere for the growth and transmittal of any influenza virus, they said.
While similarities exist between viruses that cause a cold or the flu, they are two distinct illnesses, DOH officials said.
The worst part of a cold usually lasts longer than the flu, but the flu generally causes more discomfort, doctors and medical practitioners said. The 2013 flu combines the flu and the common cold, making just getting out of bed difficult, getting to work almost impossible, they said.
Most people who have suffered from this year’s flu virus agree. “You feel like a truck ran over you,” Mikey Lahey said. Lahey, 32, of Long Island City, told the Gazette, “You’re so sick you think you’re going to die. More to the point, you’re so sick you’re afraid you won’t die.”
“Your head throbs, your muscles ache and you’re on fire,” he said. And the worst part, doctors said, is that this flu sticks around until it’s good and ready to go.
Researchers have determined that there are at least 200 cold viruses and three main types of influenza virus. They have the unlimited ability to mutate into different forms – and with this year’s virus you’re down for the count.
City health officials are urging Queens residents to get a flu shot if they haven’t already done so. If you’re feeling woozy, sneezy or otherwise out of it, stay home and rest.
Officials are also urging that only the most severely stricken people visit hospital emergency rooms. “Most people are going to get well on their own, so stay home and see your regular physician.”
The flu can be deadly for young children and infants, the elderly and those who suffer with respiratory diseases or other severe illnesses, health officials said.
The average person who doesn’t suffer with other medical problems can find relief by staying at home and treating symptoms with NyQuil, DayQuil, Sudafed and other over the counter products that may help shorten the length of the virus – but bed rest is the only real cure, they said.
You shouldn’t have much trouble following that advice, doctors said, since you are probably too sick to do much else.
Bed rest is essential because it lets your body put its energy into fighting the flu. Being active while you’re so sick weakens your defenses, leaving you open to all sorts of complications – including bronchitis and pneumonia, doctors said.
What The Doctor Ordered
•Drink up. Liquids are very important if you have a fever, because of the threat of dehydration.
•Aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol, generic), or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil or generic) can help reduce fever, headache and body aches. Because flu symptoms are most pronounced in the afternoon, evening and at night, take these medications regularly over this time period, doctors said.
•Over the counter remedies might give you temporary relief of flu symptoms, doctors said. Antihistamines can dry up a runny nose. But use them carefully, because they can also suppress symptoms to the point where you have a false sense of recovery. Resuming normal activities under these circumstances can trigger a relapse or bring on serious complications.
Outsmart the flu bug, experts advise. “The best thing you can do to protect yourself against the flu is to be vaccinated in the fall or very early winter.” In cases where the flu shot does not prevent the flu, it can considerably lessen the severity of the virus. But remember, if you are allergic to eggs, stay away from flu shots because the vaccine is made from them.
Don’t underestimate the flu, doctors said. Influenza can be as deadly today as it was in 1918, when the Spanish Flu killed more than 20 million people worldwide. So see a doctor if:
•Your voice becomes hoarse
•You develop pains in your chest
•You have difficulty breathing
•If you have a fever that remains above 101 degrees F. for more than three days, or any fever above 103 degrees F.
•If you have any hot, extreme pain, such as earache, swollen glands, sinus pain, or aching lungs or chest pain.
•If you have extreme difficulty swallowing
•Excessive loss of appetite
•Shortness of breath
Remember, your symptoms, however uncomfortable, are a sign that your body is working to kill the virus.
Drinking fluids and staying warm make you feel more comfortable, doctors said. “Keep your chin up.”
There is one other way to detect if you have the Venutian Death Flu–you stop brushing your teeth. Why?
Because (a) it’s too painful, (b) you’re too weak, or (c) you have to lie down to rest halfway through the process and toothpaste spilling from the side of your mouth congeals, bonding your head permanently to the bathroom floor, where you’ll lie for several days. And that’s how family, friends, paramedics and the police will find you.
Compared with a cold, the flu can bring major league misery to your child, health officials said.
Many symptoms of a cold and the flu are similar—cough, runny nose, sore throat and fever. But if your child has the flu, he or she will be much, much sicker, officials said.
A fever may zap your child on day one and may last for more than a week, officials said. Along with upper respiratory symptoms, there could be chills and a “wiped-out” feeling, muscle aches and pains and bloodshot eyes.
Ear infections and sinusitis may follow, but these secondary infections can be treated with antibiotics. Certain antiviral medications can be prescribed for youngsters—and they may be helpful in shortening the duration of your child’s bout with the flu.
To be effective, these remedies must be given within 20 hours after the flu symptoms appear, doctors said.
You should call your pediatrician right away if your child comes down with a high fever or other signs of the flu, doctors said. Be sure to tell your child’s doctor if he or she begins excessive vomiting, has difficulty breathing, is delirious, has ear pain or chest pain.
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recommend that children with chronic heart or lung disease, asthma, diabetes or other chronic diseases should be given a flu vaccine each year.
Check with your doctor to determine if your child should be vaccinated, health officials said.