Influenza: Prevent Symptoms from Getting Worse by Early Vaccination and Seeing a Doctor

Reiko Kameyama, chief nurse at Japanese Red Cross Toyama Hospital

Have you already been vaccinated against influenza? Flu outbreaks reach their peak in the period from January to February. Once an outbreak begins, the infection spreads to a large number of people during a short period of time. Because it takes two weeks for a vaccine to be effective, you should get the vaccine by December.    

We often hear questions from people wondering if the flu vaccine really works. The flu virus does gradually undergo mutations every year, so once the mutation has occurred, the vaccine’s effectiveness is reduced. But the vaccine does have the effect of preventing the symptoms from getting worse, so vaccination is recommended for those who are worried about any complications that may arise, such as in the case of the elderly and those who are suffering from an underlying disease.  

Besides vaccination, you should take adequate rest and get enough nutrition to boost the immune system. Also, please wash your hands and gargle as soon as you come home, the basics for controlling the spread of infection. The air is dry in the winter, which causes a decrease in the defense function of the membranes in the nose and throat. Try to keep humidity at an appropriate level (50%–60%) by using a humidifier.

A feature of flu is the sudden appearance of its symptoms, which include a high fever, headache, sore throat, and aching muscles. Since you cannot expect the full effect if you take medicine 48 hours or more after the onset of symptoms, you should seek medical advice as soon as you feel them. There are anti-influenza drugs such as Tamiflu and others that are absorbed into the bloodstream. Both methods are very effective, but you should not stop halfway through a course of drugs because the symptoms have eased. The flu virus remains in the body 3–7 days after infection. For the same reason, even after the fever has subsided, you should refrain from going out for a couple of days.  

I would like you to be on the lookout for any abnormal behavior shown by a child that has taken an anti-influenza drug. Accidents in which a child has suddenly run and fallen from a window have occurred in the past. If your child is suffering from the flu, you should not leave him or her alone without monitoring closely for at least two days after the onset of symptoms.