How to avoid the flu

Many of us are starting the New Year off with an old problem: the flu. This year's epidemic is hitting hard. And fighting it off can feel like a losing battle, especially if you're surrounded by sneezing, coughing co-workers. But cover your mouth and open your ears: the doctor is in.  Dr. Russell Greenfield talks about flu season, myths, medicines and how money factors into feeling under the weather.

Is this one of the nastiest flu seasons ever?

"Unfortunately the type of virus that's causing the flu this year is called the H3N2 virus. It's notoriously a very, very harsh virus and it causes a very rapid spread of a really difficult and really hazardous disease. Way, way different from the common cold and it really knocks people for a loop," says Greenfield.

What's the difference between the flu and the cold?

"Anybody who has had the flu knows the difference. The cold is a hassle. You can get sniffles, running eyes, cough, you can have congestion. But it's the kind of thing that you can live with and usually get by. But the flu comes on fast. You've got fever, body aches, headaches, you feel horrible," says Greenfield.

Doesn't getting a flu shot cause you to come down with the flu?

Greenfield says, "Not true. A lot of people believe this. It's unfortunate. Remember that when you go out and get the shot for the flu, you're talking about a virus, which is actually dead. It can't cause the influenza illness. So please listeners, understand that if you get the vaccine, you cannot get the flu from it."


Does taking vitamin D help ward off the flu? You may have heard that vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” when taken in sufficient amounts may provide added protection against wintertime colds and the flu. Is it true? Physician Russell Greenfield explains.


For people who believe in holistic medicine, is the flu shot needed?

"My field is in integrated medicine, so I am all about prevention -- using diet and lifestyle to try and keep yourself healthy -- and that's awesome. But you don't do those things fully to the exclusion of good, conventional medical care as well. You do both of them. Eat well. Manage your stress. Get enough sleep. AND get the vaccine," says Greenfield.

When it comes to treating symptoms of the flu, do you go holistic or over the counter?

"In terms of what you can take, for aches and pains and a little bit of fever, you can try things like Tylenol. For youngsters, we strongly recommend against using Aspirin, however. For kids who have the flu -- who have a bad viral infection -- don't use Aspirin because you run the risk of causing something called Reye's syndrome, which can be very dangerous," says Greenfield. "But the best way to go about this -- bed rest, listen to what mom said, push fluids, get plenty of sleep and rest."

To treat the flu, should you use name-brand or generic medicine?

"As long as you know that the manufacturer can be trustworthy, then you can go ahead and move forward with the less expensive one," says Greenfield.

Should you take time off of work if you have the flu?

"It's irresponsible, honestly, to go to work [if you have the flu] and the managers need to understand this. Again, this is the kind of thing that can not only cause people to get very sick, but it's killing people and unfortunately a significant number of people who have died already this year are young children. So if you're sick -- stay home.

If you HAVE to go to work with the flu, what should you do?

"One is, actually try and stay away from your co-workers as much as possible. If you do sneeze or cough, try and do so into a handkerchief or a tissue and then immediately wash your hands. If you don't have a tissue or handkerchief nearby, I know this sounds like a crazy recommendation, but everybody's saying it -- sneeze into your sleeve and then immediately go wash up," says Greenfield.

What do you do if you're around a person who is sick?

"Make sure you're washing your hands frequently. If you can't get near a sink and soap and things like that, you can use some of these alcohol-based gels. They really make a difference," says Greenfield.

About the author

David Lazarus is an American business and consumer columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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