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New year, same flu

You receive a phone call from a friend who is complaining of feeling miserable, weak — like someone hit them with a brick; can’t breathe easily, have a fever but feel like they also have cold sweats, headaches. They complain they cannot stop sneezing, so don’t come around or you may get whatever that is “killing” them.

This moaning description of symptoms to you by your friend all point to the flu, so “sit back and enjoy the ride”, and if it includes children, the ride will be even more hectic.

The US Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention has declared that influenza has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, indicating that 7.3 per cent of deaths reported last week were directly caused by pneumonia and flu.

The CDC reported that 24 states had all reported flu-like illnesses last week. Twenty children in the United States died from influenza last week. However, in Barbados, the Chief Medical Officer stated in the weekend media that there was no cause for alarm even though the United States was being severely affected by the flu.

She advised though that the Barbadian public needed to mindful of the effects of flu and the need to remain vigilant and use the precautionary methods of hand washing and reducing physical contact with family and friends.

Doctor Colin Alert, while being mindful of the US situation stated that they were varying factors that mitigated the conditions now affecting the US. He said that the environmental conditions in the region of warm temperatures and overall tropical conditions of Barbados were a major factor in the low impact of the flu here.

He and other doctors in Barbados have taken the precaution of having limited quantities of the flu vaccine available for their patients who might be affected by. However, he cautioned that there was no need to rush off to get the vaccine as the current flu calls did not warrant alarm by Barbadians. He, like other doctors on the island, suggested that the public should follow the preventative advice given by the Chief Medical Officer.

Alert also noted that the procedures put in place for Cricket World Cup 2007 and the H1N1 outbreak soon after, needed to be instituted more often based on constant visitor traffic throughout the region.

“Any person with flu symptoms not yet seen, but decided to leave the cold of Europe and North America, could easily bring it with them, thereby affecting many unsuspecting persons as the symptoms developed and spread through casual contact. An example of casual contact occurs on passenger aircraft and cruise ships.

The flu is a reality which we must accept, however we must be vigilant at all times in order to remain health and be ready provide care and comfort to family and friends who might be stricken by the illness. Caution must remain the operative word when providing care.

I have compiled a brief overview of some of the most common approaches to dealing with the flu, which I hope will be of assistance. But most of all, if you feel that you are coming down with the flu, avoid casual contact to mitigate spreading it to others.

ANTIVIRALS: There are two prescription drugs on the market that work against influenza. TamiFlu is a pill, and Relenza, an inhaled powder, can reduce your time in bed by maybe two days. According to doctors in Barbados, they are not available. The products may also keep patients from getting dangerously ill, and doctors recommend that either should be taken as soon as the symptoms are seen.

ANALGESICS: Pain and fever relieving medicines such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen — sold under brand names such as Motrin, Advil and Tylenol — can reduce fever and help with muscle aches. Patients with asthma, high blood pressure or other chronic conditions must check with their doctor before taking them.

Doctors insist that children should never be given aspirin. It can cause a deadly reaction called Reyes Syndrome. Children should only be given non-aspirin products to reduce pain and fever symptoms.

FLUIDS: Dehydration is a special risk when people are ill. Health professionals recommend plenty of clear Fluids such as water, broth, and certain sports drinks. If you have an upset stomach, you could try using a straw. The really sick may try small ice cubes or ice popsicles. And drinking can soothe a sore throat.

OVER-THE-COUNTER REMEDIES: Decongestants and antihistamines can help the most annoying symptoms of a cold or the flu — the runny or congested nose and some cough caused by post-nasal drip. Antihistamines can also help many people sleep. Cough drops or hard candies can soothe a scratchy throat, although they should not be given to young children who might choke. Cough remedies containing the suppressant dextromethorphan may help but most contain too little to do much good.

STAY HOME AND REST: If you have symptoms of flu or a bad cold, or another virus such as Norovirus, a single-stranded RNA (Ribonucleic Acid) Virus that is highly contagious and causes gastroenteritis. The best thing you can do for yourself and others is stay home and rest. You won’t spread your germs that way and you’re unlikely to be effective at work or school anyway.

And if you’re caring for someone who is infected, keeping the patient confined to one room and keeping that room clean can help prevent the spread of infection. Humidifiers or a steamy shower may help people breathe more easily. Gargling with warm salt water can also soothe a sore throat.

HERBAL SUPPLEMENTS: There’s little evidence any of them work. Studies show Echinacea doesn’t prevent colds or flu or even help treat symptoms. There is mixed evidence for Ginseng. Because herbal supplements are available in different formulations, testing them maybe problematic, additionally, some formulations even use different species of plants. The jury of public opinion has little conclusive evidence that fresh garlic might help prevent colds. Eating garlic does not appear to cause any harm.

ZINC: There is speculation that zinc supplements can boost the immune system, but the US Food and Drug Administration has recommended against using zinc in the nasal gel form because it can cause a permanent loss of smell. A Canadian study published in May 2012 suggested that zinc supplements might help reduce the severity of the common cold, but also added that different formulas made it a difficult theory to accurately test.

COUGH SYRUP: Many over-the-counter cough syrups contain an expectorant; however the American Lung Association caution that there is no evidence at all that it helps.

COLD REMEDIES FOR KIDS: Doctors generally advises against giving any over-the-counter cold, flu and cough remedies to children under two years. They also recommended not giving children under four. The FDA in 2007 persuaded drug companies to voluntarily take over-the-counter cough and cold drugs for infants off the market.

VITAMINS: People have found that taking vitamins can help, and sales of vitamins demonstrate this love; but it’s possible to get too much. Ultra-high doses of vitamin C can cause diarrhea. Although a few studies suggest vitamin C might shorten the duration of a cold, others contradict this, and no major studies show benefit for influenza.

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