This winter, we’ve experienced some uncommonly warm winter temperatures – followed by a plunge to frozen extremes – then back again to balmy, jacket-free weather – all in the span of a week. While these variances in conditions might be toying with our emotions, could they also be toying with our immune system?
Many people believe that having up-and-down temperatures in winter can lead to increased sickness. However, medical experts do not agree with this urban legend.
“While the common cold is more common in the winter, it is a myth to believe that weather change will cause any viral or bacterial infections,” said Dr. Yolanda Yu, a pediatrician.
There you have it. Enjoy the warm weather while you can, because it’s not the cause of you getting sick with a cold or the flu.
However, it can be the cause of certain effects in your body, such as swelling in the sinus passages. This might mimic the appearance of a more serious illness, but can quickly and easily be relieved by taking an antihistamine, nasal spray, or nasal rinse.
Now that flu season is upon us, it is vital to get a flu vaccine. All of our patients are sick in some way, and many are elderly, which means that their chances of catching the flu are greatly increased. Often, the flu can lead to other serious complications such as pneumonia or death. The simplest way to avoid all of these threats is to get a flu shot.
You can get a flu shot from your doctor, from a clinic or local drugstore, or even from us! Just ask your nurse for more information. Typically, the flu vaccine takes two weeks to be effective, as your body needs time to build up antibodies against the flu virus. Even if you had a flu vaccine last year, it is important to get a new one this year because the influenza virus mutates constantly. Last year’s vaccine will no longer be effective. This year’s flu vaccine has been specially formulated to protect against the current strain of the virus.
Flu activity is highest from December to February, so don’t waste any time. Once a flu outbreak begins, it can be hard to stay healthy. Getting a flu shot will protect you most of the time and keep you healthy and safe.
Have you ever wondered why doctors don’t prescribe antibiotics for the flu? It works so well against other maladies that it seems a sure solution to even the nastiest strain of influenza. But in actuality, antibiotics would be powerless against the flu because it is caused by a virus. Antibiotics can only handle bacterial infections, such as sinus infections or pneumonia.
This is an example of one of the many differences between bacteria and viruses. While they may seem similar because they are both microbes that cause us trouble, the way in which they infect and reproduce inside our bodies is actually quite different.
It’s Alive… Kind Of
Bacteria are actual living single-celled organisms, while viruses are… just kind of there. Scientists don’t really know how to classify viruses. They lack cells, they have no ribosomes or cell wall, and display no signs of life. Their sole DNA or RNA structure is enclosed inside a coat of protein. However, since they have the ability to interact with and attack the cells of living organisms, it’s hard to consider them completely dead.
Let’s Make A Baby
Bacteria reproduce asexually. What that means is, instead of getting down with another bacterium of the same species, they simply reproduce with themselves using a technique called fission. It’s a simple enough process that allows bacteria to create large colonies in a short period of time. Viruses, on the other hand, do things a bit more violently. They lack the ability to reproduce on their own and therefore must invade a host cell in order to do so. It physically hijacks the cell’s hardware and then forces it to make a new copy of the virus using its special DNA. Once the cell is packed full of tiny new viruses, it explodes and dies, releasing all the new viruses to continue their dirty work.
Viruses can perform this mooching on all forms of life, bacteria included! Because a virus is much smaller than a bacterium, it can easily attach and inject itself into the cell.
It’s Not All Bad
Before we continue bad-mouthing bacteria, let’s first point out the fact that certain kinds are actually very beneficial to humans! There are many bacteria that live in our digestive systems. They help us to digest food, destroy disease-causing microbes, fight cancer cells, and even provide essential nutrients. In fact, only one percent of bacteria causes diseases in people, which isn’t so bad when you consider the soul-sucking power of the virus.
But there is one thing that the virus has proven useful for – genetic engineering. By replacing a virus’s original DNA sequence with an altered DNA sequence, scientists can perform gene therapy on patients. This is still a new technique but it shows promises for a number of genetic disorders include severe combined immunodeficiency, heart murmurs, or even cancer.
Which One Causes Worse Illnesses?
Viruses and bacteria both lead to some pretty bad sicknesses, so it’s pretty hard to judge which is worse to have in your body. Here’s a short list of some of the more menacing items:
||Urinary tract infections
Back To The Original Question
So when it all boils down to it… why are antibiotics only effective on bacteria? It is because antibiotics work by interfering with the reproduction of bacteria. They hinder their creation of new genetic instructions or the replication of new cell walls by limiting biochemical reactions. Viruses do not carry out biochemical reactions (remember, they’re not technically alive), therefore, antibiotics are completely ineffective against them. Viruses can be combated with the help of vaccines, however. Vaccines stimulate the body to create antibodies against viruses without actually having the virus. This means that whenever you do come into contact with the virus, your body will be prepared to fend it off immediately.
Since experts are predicting an influenza epidemic this season, it would be in your best interest to follow these tips for fighting off the flu. Unfortunately, due to a genetic mutation of the flu virus, the flu shot given this year will only be effective for one third of the people who received it. Therefore, your chances of catching the flu are greatly increased. This doesn’t mean you have to lock yourself in your underground fallout shelter until summer, however. The CDC is warning people not to panic, and simply to take more precautions to prevent catching the flu. Fighting off the flu (and preventing it entirely) is definitely possible if you follow these steps.
1. Get the Flu Shot
You’re not crazy – we DID just mention how this year’s flu shot is ineffective due to a genetic mutation in the influenza virus. However, that doesn’t mean it’s completely ineffective. It is estimated that the vaccine will be protective one third of the time. Additionally, experts believe that even if it doesn’t stop the flu entirely, it may prevent serious complications that require hospitalization. In other words, if you don’t already have a flu shot for this year… it might be worth getting one.
2. Wash Your Hands
It’s another obvious one, but people often forget to do it! Washing your hands entails more than just dipping your fingers in water for two seconds. First, completely wet your hands and apply soap. Lather your hands in suds by rubbing them together, reaching in between your fingers, under your nails, and the back of your hand. Scrub for a full 20 seconds, and then rinse them off. Sounds like a lot of effort, but it will do wonders for keeping you germ-free.
3. Avoid Contact with Sick People
This is hard to accomplish when your entire office comes down with the flu, but it’s something you should really try to accomplish. You can’t get sick if you aren’t in contact with the virus! Ask your boss if you can work from home until people are illness-free. Or if it’s your home that is infected, try sleeping in a different, uninfected room from the sick. Disinfect any shared surfaces before touching them.
Photo by flu.gov.
4. Don’t Touch It!
While it may seem natural to rub your eyes after a tiring day or bring your fingers to your chin in contemplation, this is actually a big no-no. Touching your eyes, nose, and mouth is one of the easiest ways for germs to spread! You collect germs on your hands by touching people or things around you. Luckily, these germs can’t just break through your skin – they need an orifice to access the inside of your body. Unfortunately, touching your face is so commonplace for many people that don’t even realize the dangers of germ transmission.
5. Take Antiviral Drugs
Because the flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics are ineffective against it. However, there are some medications that can help calm things down if you do contract the flu. Antiviral drugs can’t cure influenza, but they can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also are good at preventing serious flu complications that can lead to a hospitalization. These aren’t over-the-counter though, so you will need to get a prescription from your doctor before taking them.
6. Get Some Sleep!
Sleep is a glorious thing, but it’s even more glorious during flu season. Keeping yourself well-rested with eight to ten hours of sleep a night is key to preventing the flu. Your body repairs and restores itself when resting, which means if you do happen to catch the flu virus, this is the time when it will produce antibodies to fight it. Not getting enough sleep could leave your body defenseless against the oncoming influenza attack.
7. Eat Healthy Food
The foods you eat act as fuel for your body. If you’re chowing down on Cheetos and Mountain Dew, chances are your body won’t have the nutrients it requires to keep your immune system running effectively. Feed yourself foods high in essential vitamins and minerals. Eating fresh fruit and vegetables does wonders for your immune system, which will in turn increase your flu-fighting defenses.
There’s no guarantee that following these steps will keep you flu-free. Sometimes, you just can’t avoid your influenza destiny. Fighting off the flu, however, should at least be a part of your winter mindset, as losing a week of your life to high fevers, body aches, headaches, sniffling, and vomiting is certainly no fun.
A mutation to the H3N2 strain of the flu means that vaccines that were administered this year may only be effective one third of the time.
The CDC, which produces the vaccines, chose what viruses to include back in early February based on scientific predictions. Unfortunately, the virus began to show substantial mutations in March as the vaccine was already in production.
Rates of flu are spiking earlier than usual, and cities are reporting higher rates of hospitalization compared to previous years.
“We know that in seasons when H3 viruses predominant, we tend to have seasons that are the worst flu years, with more hospitalizations from flu and more deaths from the flu,” said CDC director Tom Frieden.
“Unfortunately, about half of the H3N2 viruses that we’ve analyzed this season are different from the H3N2 virus that’s included in this year’s flu vaccine. They are different enough that we’re concerned that protection from vaccinations against these drifted H3N2 viruses may be lower than we usually see.”
6.8 percent of all deaths reported during the 51st week of 2014 were related to pneumonia and influenza. There have already been 15 pediatric fatalities this year, compared to four pediatric deaths during the same time period last year, which seem to suggest that the 2014-2015 flu season will be even more dangerous than usual.
“It’s more significant than we’ve seen over the past two years,” said Gregg Lagan, a spokesman for Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s even catching individuals who have the flu shot.”
Currently, 36 states are experiencing high rates of flu activity. Pennsylvania is in the upper moderate range, while bordering states such as New Jersey and Maryland are in the upper high range.
So far, 2,643 people have been hospitalized for influenza, which equates to a hospitalization rate of 9.7 per 100,000 people.
“Our medical director said that in his eight years at the hospital, he had never seen double digits” of patients hospitalized for the flu, said Jill Chadwick, a spokeswoman at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, Kan. It has had 25 people admitted with the flu, two of which have died.
Regardless of its effectiveness, the CDC is still recommending people to get flu vaccines if they haven’t already. The flu vaccine may provide protection in some people, and it also may reduce severe outcomes such as hospitalization and death even if it doesn’t offer full protection.
Don’t let the flu destroy you this season – get a flu shot!
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is in the midst of an unyielding attack against humanity. Even as you read this, the virus is embedding itself in your family and friends, murdering their healthy cells and using them to reproduce its own genetic material. It won’t be long before the virus catches on to you, and you too become a fellow fallen comrade, drenched in sickness and weary with fever.
Luckily, there is a way to put a stop to this genocidal influenza invasion – a flu shot.
There are a lot of common misconceptions about this magical elixir, probably the biggest of which is that it is a magical elixir. In actuality, a flu shot is a combination of antibodies that have been grown in egg protein. It is these antibodies that help your body create its own protection against the virus.
Here are five more common misconceptions about the flu shot that you should know about before going under the needle.
1. Flu shots can give you the flu.
Unfortunately for the haters, this fact is simply not true. According for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, the flu vaccine contains viruses that have been inactivated and are not infectious. Therefore, there is no possible way to contract the illness from the shot itself.
2. If you get a flu shot, you can’t get the flu.
As with all things human-made, there is always a chance of error. There will never be a foolproof flu shot because it is too difficult to predict every strain of flu virus that will be circulating during the flu season. In addition, it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies to develop in your body, which means you could contract the flu during this period.
A magical elixir? Nah, it’s just the flu shot.
3. The flu can’t kill you.
Oh really? As of January 4, 2014, the 2013-2014 flu season has killed six people in the state of Pennsylvania alone. During the 2012-2013 season, 200 people were killed in Pennsylvania. In 2010-2011, there were 90. People more at risk for complications include pregnant women, older adults, and young children.
4. You only get the flu in the winter.
While the high peak of influenza infections does occur in January or February, the actual flu season lasts from October to September. This means you have a chance to catch the flu at any point during the year. During May 2011, there were 67 confirmed cases of flu in Pennsylvania. Numbers were also palpable in the summer, with 15 cases in June and four in July.
5. Only old or sick people die from the flu.
There are a high number of elderly and chronically ill patients who succumb to the clutches of the flu; however, these do not account for all flu deaths. Three people between the ages of 25 and 49 have already died this year in Pennsylvania. In 2012-2013, two people ages 10 to 18 and 15 people ages 25 to 49 died.
Now that you know more about the flu, you are ready to enter the battlefield. Keep your sword held high and remember to use a flu shot as your shield.