Fight the Flu!

With the change in seasons, colds, coughs and other viruses tend to rear their ugly heads. Viral and bacterial infections are two very different things, so it’s important to know when antibiotics and immunizations help versus when they may do more harm than good.

What is the flu?

The flu is an acute respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. While colds, coughs and even most sore throats are viruses, the telltale difference between these and the flu is that the latter strikes quickly and causes more severe symptoms - high fever, runny nose, muscle aches, headache and feeling tired.

Wash your hands.

Mohammed Ali, M.D., with Meritus Infectious Disease Specialistssays the single most important step everyone can take to try and protect themselves from cold and flu viruses is properly washing their hands often. “When people infected with the flu virus cough or sneeze, they spread droplets of saliva through the air,” he says. “The droplets can get into your nose, mouth and eyes or you can touch contaminated surfaces and contract the flu.”

Get your flu vaccination.

The flu shot is made with weakened or dead flu viruses, which your body senses and develops antibodies to fight. The vaccine cannot cause flu illness and in fact, provides the best protection against the most common strains. “The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get vaccinated against the flu,” says Dr. Ali. “Vaccination not only protects you against the flu, it reduces the spread of influenza throughout the community.” The flu can be a serious disease to people with certain chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes or those with compromised immune systems from chemotherapy or other medical treatments.

“There are different vaccines available to protect yourself from the flu and all of them are effective,” says Dr. Ali. Information on the different types available this season is online at

Do I need an antibiotic from my doctor?

Antibiotics can be prescribed to kill bacterial infections or keep them from reproducing, but these drugs do not help with viruses. “Taking antibiotics for a common cold, the flu and even most coughs and sore throats not associated with strep throat may actually cause more harm than good,” says Dr. Ali. Germs can change and actually develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them. Pay attention to signs that an infection is not getting better – persistent high fever, severe shortness of breath, severe diarrhea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain/tenderness and nausea – and notify your primary care provider.

“If you do have a bacterial infection and receive an antibiotic prescription from your health care provider, make sure you finish it all, even when you start to feel better,” says Dr. Ali. “If not, some bacteria may survive and re-infect you, making you sick all over again.”

For common viruses, get plenty of rest and fluids, take an over-the-counter pain/fever relieving medication and consider a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer in your home. Also, be sure to visit your primary care provider or a local pharmacy and get your flu shot today!

Meritus Health, at 11116 Medical Campus Road, east of Hagerstown, is the largest health system in the area, providing hospital and outpatient services to the community. Subscribe to Your Health Matters, a monthly e-newsletter with important health information, at