You go to bed feeling fine and wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. Your head hurts, your body aches, your throat hurts, you can’t warm up, you feel exhausted and, out of the blue, you have a nagging cough. These are all classic signs of influenza!

Health care providers are not immune to illness. I remember having influenza during my residency. I was young, rundown and had gotten little sleep between work and chaperoning a youth event. I was called to deliver a baby in the middle of the night. Not surprisingly, I felt exhausted in the morning. But shortly thereafter, I had a cough and sore throat and just felt miserable. A colleague took one look and suggested testing for influenza. One positive nasopharyngeal swab later, I was sent home. 

Even though I was vaccinated, I had gotten so rundown my immune system wasn’t functioning well enough to keep me healthy. I slept more that week than at any other time in my life. I had enough energy to walk from the bed to the couch and sleep some more. 

Conveniently for doctors, between October and April, if someone comes in stating they felt fine and the next thing they knew it was as if they’d been hit by a truck, the diagnosis is often obvious but typically verified with a test. 

What does the influenza vaccine do?

I often hear people say the flu shot “made me sick” or “I got the flu from my flu shot.” However, you do not get an infection from a vaccine. Our body mounts an immune response and forms antibodies against the virus. This means we can have fevers, body aches, headaches and soreness for a few days after the vaccine. This immune response is what keeps us from being sickened by the virus.

How to prevent influenza

One important step to protect yourself is to get vaccinated. Obviously, as in my story above, the vaccine is not always 100 percent effective even though it did prevent my husband from getting sick from me. And, without being vaccinated, I could have had a much worse response to influenza.

Other tips include eating a healthy diet and getting good amounts of sleep and exercise.

It is also important to look out for others. If you are sick, stay home. Don’t go to work or school if you are not feeling well. Always cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze and wash your hands frequently.

How to treat influenza

Treating influenza requires time, staying hydrated, getting plenty of rest so your body can recover and seeing your doctor. For influenza, antiviral medicines can be started, especially for high-risk people, if diagnosed within the first 48 hours. This typically decreases symptoms from seven to 10 days down to five to seven. You can try honey to help with your cough and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed for fever or body aches.  

The Essentia Health-Wahpeton Clinic provides a variety of care options convenient for you. Visit EssentiaHealth.org to learn more about E-visits and other care options — virtual and in-person — this influenza season. If you have questions about getting your influenza vaccine, please call (701) 642-2000.

Kristina England, MD, is in family practice at Essentia Health-Wahpeton Clinic

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