|Ken McIntosh, MD, Infectious Diseases
MSN, RN, NP, Occupational Health
Hospital Boston's top priority is the care and safety of our patients
and staff, so we're taking measures to provide information about the
flu and its treatment during the nationwide flu vaccine shortage.
How did the hospital determine which patients, staff and
employees should be vaccinated?
Unfortunately, we have less than
one-third of the supply that we used last flu season. After much
discussion, Children's Infectious Diseases specialists decided that the
most rational way to distribute the vaccine was to administer it first to
high-risk patients and the employees who provide them with constant, hands-on
care. We have to protect our most vulnerable patients, and in order to do
so, we also have to protect the clinicians and other staff who care for
them. It's possible that the shortage situation may change and more vaccine
will be made available. If so, additional staff and employees will be vaccinated.
I won't be getting a flu vaccine at Children's, where
else can I look?
You can contact your primary care provider or your local public
health department to check on the availability of the vaccine in
What is FluMist, and who can use it?
FluMist is a nasal vaccine made of live virus. It can only be used
for healthy children 5 years old and above, and for adults up to
and including 49 years of age. Unlike the flu shot, FluMist can't
be given to people who live in a household with anyone who has
a weakened immune system. FluMist will protect you against the
flu and is proven to be effective for those who are able to use it,
but there are a lot of guidelines around its use. You should talk to
your health care provider for more information.
What are antivirals?
Antivirals are prescription drugs used to prevent and/or treat
the flu. There are four antivirals—amantadine, rimantadine, zanamavir
and oseltamivir—and they are all different in terms of who can take
them, how they are given, any dosing changes based on age or
medical conditions, and side effects. Your health care provider can decide
whether you should get an antiviral and which one you should get.
is flu season, and how severe is this year's flu strain supposed
The flu season lasts from November 1 to April
30, and this year's is expected to be moderate. There's no reason to expect
that it will be any worse than previous years.
What's the difference
between the flu and a cold?
Many people call all winter illnesses "the flu" (influenza). However,
there are differences between a cold and the flu. The common
cold is caused by over 200 types of viruses, specifically rhinoviruses
Starting two to three days after an infection
with nose congestion, swelling in the sinuses, sneezing, sore
throat, cough, headache and mild fever, colds usually creep up
on you. These symptoms can last a couple of days to more than two weeks
(most people recover in one week). The
average adult gets two to four colds a year.
The flu is
caused by influenza A and B viruses. The symptoms usually
start suddenly with a headache, dry cough, fever/chills,
muscle aches and a "knocked off your feet" feeling. The
away after two to three days and then a sore throat
and nasal congestion can start. The tired and weak feelings
can last from days to weeks.
How are colds and flus spread?
Colds and flus are viral infections, spread from one
person to another by a kiss, a handshake or by touching a contaminated
surface, such as a doorknob, telephone or money.
How do I protect myself and
my family from the flu?
Even though there's a limited supply of the flu vaccine this
year, you can still protect yourself and others.
make sure you consistently wash your hands, or keep a gel sanitizer
with you to use if you are unable to wash them with soap and
water. Also, the cold weather and lack of humidity may make your
nose lining drier and more susceptible to viral infections, so use plants
(they release water back into the air as vapor), pans of water or a
humidifier to counteract the dryness.
Beyond that, just be healthy.
Get plenty of sleep and exercise, drink lots of fluids, take
a multi-vitamin and eat healthy foods. Many people find these
things hard to do around the winter holidays, so make a plan now to keep
How can I avoid spreading my cold or flu if I get
The best thing you can do if you're sick is stay home from
work. By being here, you are prolonging your recovery and putting
others at risk for contracting your illness. If you must, make
sure you constantly wash your hands and wear a mask around
patients. You can also avoid spreading germs by coughing or sneezing
into a tissue or your sleeve if a tissue is unavailable
are over-the-counter medications in treating the
Over-the-counter medications are effective in
treating the symptoms of the flu, but are not effective
in treating the flu itself. They will make you feel
better, but it's up to prescribed medications and your
body to kill the virus.