Five FUN facts about flu - SPOILER ALERT: Ferrets!

This week is National Influenza Vaccination week (intentionally chosen because flu vaccination rates historically take a dip this week. Who knew?). As a practicing pediatric emergency doctor in Atlanta, I can tell you flu impacts flow in the emergency department like no other illness. Therefore, in pure self-interest to keep kids out of the hospital, here are five fun flu facts to try to get you to get vaccinated, or at least give you some cocktail party fodder when flu arrives.

1) To keep with the alliterative trend, a relatively fun flu fact is that ferrets are the only natural animal host for testing. If you’re going to have a flu lab, don’t plan on cute little white mice. Big, stinky, ferrets are your friends.

2) With the recent focus on fighting illness with food, here’s some excellent research: probiotics work. Parents can prevent cold and flu symptoms using acidophilus, the “friendly bacteria” in yogurt twice a day. Probiotics highly significantly reduced cough, fever, snotty nose… you name it. Probiotics also had effects on cold and influenza-like symptom incidence and duration in children 3-5 years. The same principles have been researched in adults.

3) Flu is late this year. Usually flu will start getting widespread by the end of November. This year’s strains have been shy – but this doesn’t mean we’ll have a mild flu season. When flu co-circulates with viruses we see in January/February, the intensity of catching both at once can be brutal. In 2013, 3697 deaths were attributed to flu.

4) 24% of adults don’t get vaccinated because they don’t like needles. A 2012 study by Target found that almost a quarter of unvaccinated adults had a dislike of the poke itself. Unfortunately, needle-less options can hurt as much or more. For people who dislike needles, Buzzy, a vibrating cold pack, decreases injection pain 73-86%, and works better for adults. Needle fear is a barrier to vaccination that doesn’t get addressed often, but at least there are solutions.

5) Does an orange a day keep the doctor away? Lame question – who makes housecalls anymore? A better question is does high dose vitamin C (1g/day) help decrease the likelihood of catching flu. Short answer, nope, but a 2013 Cochrane review (highest quality reviews of existing studies) found… it helps. Sort of. In over 11,300 total patients, this was the verdict: “In adults the duration of colds was reduced by 8% (3% to 12%) and in children by 14% (7% to 21%). In children, 1 to 2 g/day vitamin C shortened colds by 18%.” So you got that going for you.

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