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Is it a cold or the flu? What you should know

MEDICINE

December 22, 2003|Jane E. Allen | Times Staff Writer

A: No one knows how well the current vaccine formulation will protect against Type-A Fujian, which accounts for virtually all the flu seen in California so far. Flu shots have a range of effectiveness, which drops with age and chronic illness. Health officials say the vaccine should keep the most vulnerable people -- the elderly, the very young and those with chronic illnesses -- from suffering potentially deadly complications.

Q: I've heard that some insurance companies weren't covering FluMist.

A: That was the case, but as supplies of injectable flu vaccine became scarce, several major health insurers, including Aetna and some Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, announced they would pay for FluMist. However, some of those companies have said they expect to discontinue FluMist coverage next year.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday December 23, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Flu -- An article in Monday's Health section misstated the federal Centers for Disease Control recommendations for childhood vaccination against the flu. The CDC recommends that children between the ages of 6 months and 23 months be vaccinated, not children ages 23 months to 6 years, as the article said.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday December 29, 2003 Home Edition Health Part F Page 6 Features Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Flu Q&A -- A story in the last week's Health misstated the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendations for childhood vaccination against the flu. The CDC recommends that children between 6 months and 23 months be vaccinated, not children 23 months to 6 years, as the article said.

Q: How can I tell if I have a cold or the flu?

A: Both are viral infections that start in the respiratory tract. They have a few overlapping symptoms, including a dry cough, runny or stuffy nose and sore throat. One crucial difference, however, is how quickly symptoms arise, experts say. With flu, you suddenly have body aches, chills, fever, headache and a feeling of fatigue that often is likened to "being hit by a truck." Children also may have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

Q: Why is there no vaccine for the common cold as there is for the flu?

A: That's because colds are caused by hundreds of viruses that can infect the upper respiratory system. It's impossible to design a single vaccine to hit so many targets.

Q: If I think I've been exposed to the flu, what can I do about it?

A: Ask your doctor about the four prescription drugs designed to shorten the duration and intensity of the infection. Keep in mind, though, that antiviral drugs should be taken within 48 hours of your first symptoms. The drugs are oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), rimantadine (Flumadine) and amantadine (Symmetrel). Avoid Relenza if you have asthma or chronic respiratory disease. If you have a fever, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but do not give children aspirin because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.

Q: Will my medical insurance pay for antiviral medications?

A: That depends on your insurance provider. Typically, if you have a prescription drug benefit, they're covered.

Q: Can I do anything to halt the spread of the flu or a cold?

A: Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your hands to your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you're sick, cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of your tissues. Use alcohol wipes or hand disinfectants. Consider staying home from work or school for the first three days of the illness. Surfaces that a sick person may have touched (telephones, faucets, doorknobs, refrigerator handles) can be washed with a household disinfectant, alcohol-based cleaner or diluted bleach.

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