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JBSA-Randolph Clinic offers advice on managing cold, flu symptoms

| Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs | Jan. 13, 2016

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — As flu season continues toward its wintertime peak, health care professionals at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Family Care Clinic are reporting a sharp increase in the number of patients complaining of colds and flu-like symptoms.

The good news is that most patients are suffering from colds, not influenza, Capt. (Dr.) John Lax, 359th Medical Operations Squadron family physician, said.

“In the week leading up to Thanksgiving, we started seeing more people with flu-like symptoms, but most of them had colds,” he said. “We haven’t seen a lot of flu cases so far. Last year there were a lot of flu cases, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there’s been good coverage from this flu season’s vaccine.”

Lax said colds and influenza share some symptoms, but the flu is distinguished by body aches and a high-spiking fever – 102 degrees or higher for adults 18 and older.

“Without a fever or body aches, it is unlikely you have the flu,” he said. “They are the most common symptoms and normally start first.”

Other flu symptoms are coughing, runny nose, sinus pressure and headaches.

Lax said many people think they have the flu because of their symptoms, but colds typically start out differently than influenza.

“Colds start with a sore throat and a runny nose,” he said.

Other cold symptoms include a low-grade fever, cough, fatigue, sinus pressure, headaches, post-nasal drip, and eye irritation and redness.

Lax said colds and the flu are caused by viruses, but again there is a difference.

“Colds can be caused by more than 100 different types of viruses, but the flu is caused by only two viruses, which is why a vaccine can be made for it,” he said.

Patients who have flu-like symptoms should be evaluated if they have underlying heart or lung problems, have recently had an overnight stay in a hospital, have one-sided sinus pain, or their symptoms have continued beyond 10 days, since viral infections typically run their course in seven to 10 days, Lax said.

“There is unfortunately nothing we can do to speed up that course other than recommend resting and allowing yourself to recover,” he said. “Regardless if it’s a cold or the flu, people will get better over time. Your body will fight infection.”

Most people can treat their symptoms accordingly at home, through rest and hydration; the use of decongestants, cough suppressants and pain relievers; and salt-water gargles and cool drinks for sore throat.

Lax said rest and hydration are especially important.

“Hydration thins out secretions and allows them to drain,” he said. “Since antibiotics don’t work for viruses, you need to allow your body to do the work of fighting the infection for you, and this requires rest.”

In some cases, a medication called Tamiflu can be used to treat people with the flu, especially those with medical problems such as heart, lung or kidney disease; the very young; and people 65 and older, Lax said.

“It will shorten your symptoms by about one and a half days, but you will recover from the flu if you take the medicine or not,” he said.

Prevention is an important way to avoid colds or the flu, Lax said.

Measures that can slow the spread of viruses include frequent thorough hand washing; keeping countertops, keyboards and other surfaces clean; using tissues when sneezing or coughing; and avoiding contact with people who have a cold or the flu.

For the flu, a yearly immunization is the best measure. According to the CDC, a flu vaccination can keep people from getting sick from the flu, help protect people who are at greater risk of getting seriously ill from the flu, make the illness milder if one becomes sick and reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes.

Lax said all JBSA clinics are still providing flu immunizations.

The clinic is also expediting the handling of cold and flu cases with a nurse-run section devoted to those cases, he said.

“We’re making access available to people who may not have to be seen by a provider,” Lax said. “We’re able to triage patients and treat them according to the protocol.”