Monday, Dec. 22, 2008 | 5:29 p.m.
With temperatures dipping across the Las Vegas Valley, Southern Hills Hospital is offering tips on beating the flu.
Dr. Constantine George, a pediatrician and flu spokesman for Southern Hills Hospital, this month hosted a "Lunch and Learn'' event and said there are thousands of flu viruses that mutate each year in a natural process called Antigenic Drift.
Every year the Center for Disease Control creates a new vaccination formula and tries to determine which viruses will be the predominate ones.
"No immunization is 100 percent guaranteed," George said. "It just reduces your risk of contracting the flu."
Officially named influenza, the flu is a viral infection and not a bacterium that can be treated with antibiotics.
Colder winter temperatures, George said, are prime conditions for flu viruses to reproduce. The typical flu season runs from November to March and peaks in December and January.
Symptoms include a very high fever — anywhere from 102 to 104 degrees — accompanied by severe headaches, fatigue and muscle soreness. A runny nose and sore throat are also common.
According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 36,000 people in the United States die each year from the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized annually for flu-related symptoms.
"If you are over the age of 65 or have underlying health problems like heart disease, diabetes, pneumonia or bronchitis, your immune system is weakened so you're more likely to come down with the flu," George said.
Senior citizens who live in nursing homes are also susceptible because tight living quarters result in people sharing the same oxygen. Children less than a year old to five years old are also vulnerable to contracting the flu.
Common medications such as cough syrups or sore throat sprays can never "cure" the flu, George said — they only temporarily relieve symptoms while the body fights off the virus. Drinking lots of water and getting plenty of rest is the quickest path to recovery.
George also stressed the importance of good hygiene. The flu virus is most commonly spread in respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes.
"I can't tell you how many times I have patients in my office who are coughing or sneezing and they put their hand out to shake my hand," George said. "I tell them, 'I'm not touching your hand because I don't want to get sick.' Cover your mouth, cover your nose and wash your hands often throughout the day."
Flu vaccinations typically cost between $20 and $40 and can be administered at any doctor's office, hospital or local pharmacy such as Walgreens or CVS.
An individual should visit a doctor, George said, if a fever hasn't gone down for four days, flu symptoms persist for more than 10 days or if there is chest pain or light-headedness.
Jeff O’Brien can be reached at 990-8957 or [email protected].