Influenza Redux

Mar 14, 2016

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

"You suck as a pharmacist!" That was new. My daughter Emily has often told me she hates me, I suck as a parent and I am a terrible father. This current emphatic statement was the first direct attack I can remember against my chosen profession. You see, Emily had a stuffed up nose. She had tried Advil Cold and Sinus. It didn't work to her satisfaction. So she asked for something stronger. I told her I had different OTC medications for a stuffed up nose, but nothing stronger. She might just have to tough it out. That was the genesis of her doubts about my qualifications as a health care professional. And 45 seconds after saying she hated me in a new and different way, she wanted a ride to school and money for her ski trip.

Like Emily's stuffy nose, there are some medical issues we can't do much about. After you are infected with the influenza virus, you are probably going to get sick. We have anti-viral medications that may shorten how long you are sick for, but that is about it. And there does seem to be a lot of flu going around. March 3 Manitoba Health sent out a notice saying that there has been a recent increase in influenza or flu activity across Manitoba. The most common strain circulating at the moment is Influenza A (H1N1) pdm09. This current spike in flu is expected to last for the next month or so.

What is the flu? The flu (or influenza) is a highly contagious respiratory viral illness. Its symptoms are similar to a cold, but flu symptoms are usually more severe and start very suddenly. Flu usually starts with a fever, dry cough, sore throat, sore joints and muscles, and exhaustion. Other symptoms can include headache and stuffy nose. An influenza cough is usually severe and can last two or more weeks. Fever and other symptoms usually resolve in 5 to 7 days. Influenza can be very difficult for doctors to diagnose because its symptoms are very similar to many other viral respiratory diseases and up to half the people who get the flu don't have the typical symptoms previously mentioned.

Influenza can spread easily from one person to another through coughing, sneezing or sharing food and drinks. You can also get the flu by touching objects contaminated with flu virus and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose. That is why hand washing is so important to prevent the spread of the flu. It is also recommended that you cough or sneeze into your elbow, sleeve or into a tissue. Finally, if you are sick with the flu, stay at home to avoid infecting other people. If you get worse or have trouble breathing, see your doctor or go to the emergency room.

You have probably heard television commercials talking about Tamiflu and how it treats influenza. Even the March 3 bulletin from Manitoba Health says ">99% of all H1N1 strains tested to date have been sensitive to the antiviral drug oseltamivir or tamiflu." However tamiflu isn't as effective as you may want it to be. It must be started within 2 days of the start of flu symptoms and it will only reduce the length of your symptoms by 1.3 days.

So if there isn't much help once you get the flu, can you avoid it? As mentioned, wash your hands a lot. But, the best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu shot. The current flu shot that is in pharmacies does protect against H1N1 which was mentioned in the March 3 bulletin. Estimates from the USA says the current flu shot is effective against about 60% of the currently circulating influenza viruses. Manitoba Health says it is still reasonable to give the flu shot to all Manitobans who are interested. A flu shot is especially important for those at increased risk of serious illness from the flu, their caregivers and their close contacts. So for example, if you visit your grandmother in a personal care home, go get your flu shot.

Every year people have questions about flu shots. Questions such as: Can I get the flu from the flu shot? No. The flu vaccine is made from dead virus parts. It cannot give you the flu. Unfortunately, some people can get sick, or can even get the flu immediately after the flu shot. That is because the flu shot doesn't start working until 2 weeks after the shot. So you can catch the flu and get symptoms during that two week period. Also, people who seem to have gotten the flu within a day or two of the shot probably had the flu virus in them already at the time of the shot, and would have gotten sick anyway. Finally, the flu shot only protects against some very specific influenza viruses. It doesn't protect against the common cold virus or bacterial illnesses.

Can the flu shot give me a bad reaction? Rarely. But it is almost always safer to get the flu shot than to get the flu. The flu shot is made in chicken eggs. So people with serious egg allergies should not get the flu shot. You can get a local reaction at the injection site that turns red and sore for up to two days. You may also get fever, headache, or muscle pain. Your pharmacist can get you acetaminophen products to help with these mild symptoms. If these symptoms get very bad or last for a long time, seek medical attention. If you get hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue or lips after you leave the flu clinic, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department for immediate treatment.

For most people the flu is an annoying week off of work. But, some people can get really sick, go to hospital or even die of flu complications. Although not perfect, your best defence against the flu is still the flu shot.

At least I am in good company with the people/animals that Emily hates. In my biased opinion, our dog Sheldon is just about the cutest, best tempered little dog around. However, any time Emily is told it is her turn to walk Sheldon, she screams at Sheldon how much she hates him and asks why he has to pee every day. But something interesting has started happening. Emily is now complaining that Sheldon seems to not want to cuddle up with her on the couch. Sheldon now runs away from her when she tries to scoop him up. I have mentioned that maybe if she yelled that she hated Sheldon less, he would cuddle with her more. Maybe the little dog will train her into becoming a pleasant human being once she is done been a teenager. Because heaven knows she won't listen to the world's worst pharmacist.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

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The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

Manitoba Health Flu info site:

Health Canada Flu site:


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