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Dr. Christina Johns
Senior Medical Advisor, PM Pediatrics

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the 4 stages of flu season according to dr. christina

The 4 Stages of Flu Season, According to Dr. Christina

Flu season is here. The reports on the evening news are airing on the regular, and neighborhood social media pages are filling up with the full spectrum of comments about prevention and treatment. As we start to get waist-deep into influenza, I’m noting that there’s a real pattern to what we all seem to go through each year. *Sort of* like Kessler and Kubler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief, I humbly present to you my 4 stages of flu season.

 

Denial.

This happens every fall. Despite the fact that primary care offices and places like Target start offering multiple flu shot clinics and there’s a fairly extensive public education push in the media from the CDC and other healthcare entities, many still dismiss the oncoming virus as if they can simply will it away. There is (surprisingly) still a large faction of people who erroneously believe that the flu shot causes the flu. This period corresponds vaguely to that first stage of getting sick we all go through, optimistically entitled “disbelief:” “I’m not getting sick, am I?”

Fear.

Late November arrives and people begin to panic that they haven’t gotten their flu shot; they’re starting to hear reports of flu activity, and they’re worried that THEY WILL BE NEXT. The words “Swine flu” are uttered by newscasters. Elderberry purchases skyrocket, and online queries for “therapeutic treatment with garlic” are at an all time high. Flu shot clinics are full, and no one is sure if their local pharmacy will do flu shots for a child under 8. The great debate of whether or not to get the nasal FluMist or the flu shot gets danced around uncomfortably by all healthcare organizations. The dreaded school note comes home that says: “there is Influenza in the classroom.” We all hold our collective breath.

Anger.

January-February (variable).  Flu activity is widespread throughout the nation. Many are annoyed that they are actually sick. Flu tests are running out and no pharmacy has the tamiflu liquid in stock (WTH). People keep their kids home from school; parents are missing work, and news outlets report nightly on the number of hospitalizations & perhaps deaths due to influenza. Many are virtually bathing in hand sanitizer, and there is outright refusal to touch doorknobs and anyone else’s keyboard. This phase is expressed by the statement “I’m FURIOUS that I’m sick.”

Acceptance.

March and beyond. Influenza activity starts to decrease nationally. Tamiflu comes back into supply and people start to understand the meaning of the term “supportive care.” Rest and TLC are the orders of the day. We all acknowledge that Tamiflu isn’t a magic bullet, nor is elderberry, and it appears that we’ve survived yet another flu season. Everyone vows to get their flu shot done in September this year, to be ahead of the curve… and then…see #1 above.

We go through this every year, with some minor variances depending on the nuances of the specific strains of the flu during that season. I write all this with a bit of a rueful smile: I promise I’m not trying to belittle or make fun of anyone’s flu practice, except to say that flu vaccination is worth it and please manage your expectations as far as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) is concerned. At the end of the day we are all doing the best we can to steer ourselves and our children out of harm’s way and into wellness. Maybe after reading this a few people really will follow through on their commitment to get the flu shot before Halloween in 2019, and if that’s the case I’ll know my 4 stages of flu season really resonated with a few of you all.

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