Sarah Goodwin
Kathi Ovnic
Holly Korschun
October 21, 1998

DON'T LET THE FLU GET YOU: Emory Expert Gives Advice on Fighting the Flu

The's as predictable as the changing of seasons. And, as the leaves burst into color and a chill fills the autumn air, the influenza virus is gearing up for its annual appearance ­ including all of its miserable, achy symptoms. However, now is the time for people to "arm" themselves with a simple flu shot for added protection against this debilitating illness.


"The flu is caused by the influenza virus," explains Christine Choat, M.D., internal medicine specialist at The Emory Clinic Fayetteville. "But, not all wintertime infections are caused by influenza." Symptoms of the influenza infection include the sudden onset of fever, chills, fatigue, severe muscle aches, dry cough and stuffy nose. Sore throat, nausea and headache may also be present. Signs of the infection are noticed one to four days after exposure to the virus. Rest is still the major treatment for the flu.


The flu vaccine is recommended, not only to avoid influenza, but also to prevent potential complications of the flu. Some of these complications can be life-threatening, such as pneumonia. "Most of the complications arise from bacteria, who like to jump aboard for the ride while our defense system is busy fighting the flu virus," says Dr. Choat. "Complications may include ear, sinus and lung infections. Elderly and chronically ill people are at highest risk."

The vaccine is recommended annually for people over 65 years of age, children taking chronic aspirin therapy, health care workers and people with chronic illness, especially heart and lung disease. It is not recommended for people with an allergy to chicken eggs and should not be given during acute illness, such as a head cold. Adequate protection against the flu is achieved two weeks after the vaccine is received. People who are interested in the vaccine should go to their doctor or health department in October or November. The vaccine has been shown to reduce illness from influenza by 60 percent and to prevent up to 80 percent of deaths from the disease.

Side effects of the vaccine are few and infrequent. Fever, muscle aches and tenderness at the injection site are possible, but are usually relieved with acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

"I've had many patients refuse to take the flu vaccine because they feel that previous flu shots have made them sick or actually given them the flu," says Dr. Choat. "This is an unfortunate misconception that keeps many people from being protected."

The vaccine is not a live vaccine and therefore, it cannot give anyone the flu. Most people who feel sick after being given the vaccine have been infected by one of the multitudes of other viruses and bacteria that are prevalent in the cold weather months. In addition, the vaccine is changed every year. So, having a bad experience one year would not predict a similar experience in following years. "In light of these facts, I would encourage those who are hesitant to become vaccinated to reconsider," says Dr. Choat.


Over-the-counter remedies like cough syrup, tylenol and ibuprofen are helpful. The duration of symptoms can be shortened in some cases with an antiviral medication, often from 10 to 5 days, but must be given within 48 hours of the start of symptoms.

"If you think you have influenza and are interested in taking this medication, please contact your doctor as soon as possible," notes Dr. Choat.


Future development for fighting the flu includes a treatment and vaccine in nasal spray form. However, neither of these treatments will be available in time for this influenza season.


EMORY HEALTHCARE incorporates all of Emory's health services into an integrated whole. It includes The Emory Clinic and its 18 health centers, Emory University Hospital, Crawford Long Hospital of Emory University and Emory-Adventist Hospital at Smyrna, The Wesley Woods Center of Emory University, Inc. and The Emory Children's Center.

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