By Greg Frank, Ph.D.
You know the signs. The thunderous cough. The pounding headache. The full-body fatigue.
It’s the flu. Last fall and winter, influenza sickened roughly 40 million Americans and killed 60,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This year’s flu season is nearly upon us. Here are four tips to stay healthy.
1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. People should get the flu vaccine early. Every year, this shot prevents up to 6.7 million flu cases, 87,000 hospitalizations, and 10,000 deaths. The vaccine also helps makes the flu less severe for those who do catch it.
The CDC recommends obtaining a flu shot no later than the end of October. The treatment takes around two weeks to become fully effective, so there’s no time to waste.
2. Your mom was right: If you do fall ill, remember your mother’s advice. Drink lots of fluids. Juice, Gatorade, herbal teas, and chicken soup can help fight dehydration. Menthol ointments and humidifiers break up mucus and make it easier to breathe. These treatments aren’t fancy, but they provide real relief.
3. Remember that antibiotics won’t help. Influenza is caused by a virus. Antibiotics, which only treat bacterial infections, are completely useless against viruses.
Not all patients realize this. Many clamor for antibiotics at the first sign of flu-like symptoms.
Such antibiotics won’t make people feel any better. In fact, needlessly taking antibiotics increases people’s risk of future infections. It gives bacteria an opportunity to evolve and become immune to treatments — a phenomenon known as “antimicrobial resistance.”
4. Antibiotics come with risks. Antibiotic overuse accelerates the spread of drug-resistant bacteria known as “superbugs,” which already kill over 160,000 Americans every year.
To fight these superbugs, Congress is currently considering the Developing an Innovative Strategy for Antimicrobial Resistant Microorganisms Act, or DISARM. This bill would incentivize hospitals to use antibiotics appropriately and sparingly. It would also encourage researchers to develop new antibiotics. Along with a package of market incentives for new treatments, the DISARM Act could save thousands of lives.
So remember — get your shots early, follow your mother’s advice, and don’t jeopardize your health by needlessly taking antibiotics.
Greg Frank, Ph.D., is the director of infectious disease policy at the Biotechnology Innovation Organization.