Flu season is starting earlier this year, and two of Sarasota's doctors tell residents to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.
The bottom line this flu season: The vaccine works. Get the vaccine.
That’s what two doctors with Sarasota Memorial’s First Physicians Group said on the matter.
“It’s the single best way to prevent the flu,” said Dr. Karen Hamad, who is an internist and pediatrician. “It’s not a live vaccine, and it cannot make you sick.”
This year’s flu is upper-respiratory based, and comes with fever, congestion, body aches, muscle pains and vomiting. And it’s starting earlier than last year.
Flu season typically runs from November to March, and this year both physicians already have seen a high number of cases, specifically in children under 18. Last year, Hamad said it didn’t pick up until January.
Also different this year: The flu mist, which was a live vaccine that you take orally, is not effective against this year’s flu strain, and isn’t available.
“The vaccine is very, very safe,” said Dr. Jack Rodman, also an internist and pediatrician. “It has very, very few side effects, and really there are very few things that limit someone from being recommended to get the flu shot.”
Specifically, children younger than 6, adults over the age of 50, pregnant women and people with chronic illness should be wary of the flu — they’re the most at risk for complications if they do catch it. And some groups, like the elderly, actually need to get a high-dose flu vaccine to protect themselves.
It's also recommended that anyone who spends a lot of time with an at-risk group, like teachers, parents, nurses or doctors, should get vaccinated.
Aside from getting the flu shot, basic hygiene like frequently washing hands with warm soapy water, and coughing or sneezing into your arm instead of your hand, can go a long way.
Additionally, Dr. Kinga Porter specializes in alternative and holistic medicine at her practice, Whole Health in Lakewood Ranch. She recommends healthy living to keep your immune system strong before you get sick. Everything from eating healthy and getting exercise, to getting enough sleep at night and keeping your stress levels low can help your immune system.
“It’s really just about prevention,” Rodman said. “It’s about avoiding situations that may put you at higher risk for being in positions that you can’t control. Not to live your life in fear, but it’s about the standard hand washing, covering mouth and avoidance if in doubt.”
If you think you have the flu, stay home from work and see your doctor. A rapid influenza diagnostic test will tell medical care providers if you have the flu. From there, Rodman said you should be able to manage it with anti-inflammatories, hydration and rest.
“Most people with the flu do just fine,” Rodman said.
Porter recommends several natural supplements to help you get over the flu more quickly — echinacea, elderberry and astragalus, along with maitake, Cordyceps and shiitake mushrooms can help manage symptoms. As for vitamin C, which Porter says everyone is quick to grab when you're getting sick, it's hard to get the dosage needed to have any curative qualities. She said IV vitamin C, which is only offered at some practices like her own, is the only thing that could help.
Hamad said if you do have the flu, you should be quarantined for seven days. That’s no work, no school, no trips to the store.
“Getting a flu vaccine seems like a pretty simple thing to avoid all that,” she said.