Telemedicine: The Best Way To Treat The Flu


It’s pumpkin spice season, otherwise known as the most wonderful time of the year. And The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would like you to know that you can keep those good times coming by getting a flu shot now.

What’s the rush? It’s true that over the past 32-years, flu epidemics have tended to peak in February (14 seasons), followed by December (6 seasons), January and March (5 seasons each). But influenza outbreaks can start in early November and your body needs two weeks following vaccination to fully build up its immunity.

Flu vaccines are developed annually, with viruses selected for inclusion based on global research that indicates which viruses are in or are likely to be in circulation during a particular flu season. Each country makes their own decision about which viruses should be included in the influenza vaccines licensed in their country. It takes at least six months to produce large quantities of influenza vaccine, so work starts in January for the next flu season.

Due in part to that long lead time as well as the unpredictability of viruses, the flu vaccine isn’t always as successful as one might hope. The CDC estimates that last year’s vaccine was only about 19% effective, because one of the strains of the virus mutated.  But even in years when the vaccine isn’t a perfect match, the vaccine can still provide some protection as well as possibly lessen the effect of the flu if a person does get ill.

Although nearly everyone refers to the vaccine as a “shot,” you can also choose to be vaccinated via a nasal spray (FluMist). The spray contains a live attenuated virus, where the shot contains inactivated virus. Some research suggests that the nasal spray version provokes a stronger immune system response, providing better protection against the flu.

About 35% of consumers think the flu vaccine can cause flu, according to a new survey conducted by CVS Pharmacy, as reported by USA TODAY. The viruses in the flu shot are dead, the ones in the nasal spray are so weakened that they cannot cause a full-blown flu, though some people may experience a runny nose, headache and wheezing after vaccination with FluMist.

The Cost of Flu

Only 43% of Americans got vaccinated against the flu in 2014/15, and about the same number (42%) plan to skip vaccination this season, according to the CVS survey. The CDC says that influenza kills up to 49,000 people a year and hospitalizes 200,000.

Flu is also responsible for $10.4 billion in direct medical expenses yearly, and $16.3 billion in lost earnings for sick employees. The average family will also spend between $300 and $400 dollars out of pocket if a family member gets ill with the flu. Most of the cost is related to doctor’s visits.

Fighting the Flu

The flu is primarily spread via droplets or spray expelled when the infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. It’s also possible to get flu by touching an object or surface that is contaminated with the flu virus, and then touching one’s own mouth or nose.

People with flu can infect other people up to about 6 feet away. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. An infected person can spread the flu up to one day before their own symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children can sometimes pass along the virus for longer than 7 days.

While it’s obvious that people should keep their distance from the infected, and stay home if sick, many adults say that they can’t take time off work simply because they are ill.  The usual precautions taken against colds also apply to the flu: Wash hands often and thoroughly with soap and water. Sanitize items and surfaces used by or that are in frequent contact with sick people. Focus on bolstering immune systems by getting enough sleep and eating healthy.

Antiviral drugs, including Tamiflu, often shorten the length and severity of a flu infection, if they are prescribed and taken as soon as the person experiences the onset of symptoms. Health professionals agree that early treatment for influenza is essential. Telemedicine is the most efficient way to get care.

Telemedicine and the Flu

During the height of last year’s flu epidemic, doctors in a number of states asked patients with flu-like symptoms to skip office visits in the hopes of containing the infection. Patients were evaluated and treated with telemedicine consultations – over the phone or via the internet.

Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that many doctors now prefer to discuss symptoms over the phone and prescribe an antiviral medication. He said this approach not only reduces the spread of infection, but also reduces the cost of treatment – patients avoid the cost of a doctor’s visit or the even costlier trip to the emergency room or urgent care clinic.

It’s estimated that up to 70% of doctor visits could be successfully managed remotely via telemedicine.

The best telemedicine plans offer free consultations with local doctors 24/7 via phone or video chat,  along with access to a broad range of experts who can provide insight on virtually any health or wellness issue, as well as counselors on call will work with members to help resolve personal issues ranging from addiction to depression, stress, and loss. You can skip the doctor’s office, the emergency room or the urgent care clinic and still get the care you need – including prescriptions – for many common ailments.

Click here for more details on affordable, comprehensive telemedicine plans, or call the :DentalPlans’ AtYourService team at 866-552-7563.


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