How the local Rxperts beat the bug

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

If you have the flu, there is not much that a doctor can do for you.

But Carroll County's pharmacists do have some ideas to relieve the symptoms, and some of them think certain over-the-counter products can cut the duration of the virus significantly, perhaps even cure it.

"The most important thing is to determine if it's a cold or the flu," said Pharmacist Forest Windham at Green Forest Pharmacy. "A lot of people can't tell the difference, and there's no cure for the flu."

The best thing, he said, is to get a flu shot ---- in advance of the flu season, of course. Since flu is caused by a virus, no antibiotic will touch it.

The flu and the severe cold that are making the rounds have several symptoms in common, such as chest congestion, cough and sore throat, but the flu comes with a higher fever along with muscle and joint aches.

Windham recommends lots of fluids, decongestants like Robitussin, pain and fever reducers like Tylenol and Ibuprofen products. "All you can treat is the symptoms, get plenty or rest, drink lots of water, use a clean tissue every time you sneeze and throw it away, and wash your hands frequently."

At Poynor Drug in Berryville, Pharmacist Jim Shell says the first thing he does is ask about the symptoms. "When people say they have the flu, it can mean anything," he cautioned, such as an allergy.

"Stress that," he said. "When they have the aches and pains and higher fever, that's when I can tell they have really got the flu."

If a customer has other respiratory problems, such as asthma or emphysema, he tells them to get to their doctor. "There are anti-viral drugs that help make it shorter in duration, but its only available by prescription."

Otherwise, he said, he treats the symptoms recommending Ibuprofen, except when the person has stomach problems, then he recommends Extra-Strength Tylenol. From there, he recommended decongestants for chest tightness, and pseudoephedrine for nasal problems.

"A lot of the stuff we have, like Theraflu, is just using the flu name. They're not really for flu, but they have some of the same ingredients."

Charles Worrel, pharmacist at The Medicine Chest in Berryville, generally tells his customers to go to the doctor. "Most over-the-counter products are of no help if you have the flu," he said. "Some stores have homeopathic remedies that are helpful, But I generally tell them to talk to their doctor to get anti-viral medications." Otherwise, Worrel offers the same recommendations as Windham, including expectorants, decongestants and pain-killers, depending on the symptoms.

Pharmacist Dusty Barrett at Fred's Discount Pharmacy at Holiday Island, says he usually recommends antihistamines for drainage, Robitussin for coughs, and Tylenol for fever and aches. "Stay our of the weather," he cautions, "and get plenty of fluids."

Beth McCullough at Medical Park Pharmacy in Eureka Springs believes in treating the symptoms and not using multi-purpose products. "If you've got a stuffy nose, get a decongestant. If it's a cough, get a cough suppressant. You don't need a lot of treatments for symptoms you don't have."

Meanwhile, she says, "eat right, take Vitamin C, exercise, and lots of water always helps. If the fever is really high, I recommend that they see a doctor. An anti-viral medicine can help if you catch it early enough." Meanwhile, she suggests keeping it simple, as with cough drops or candy for sore throats.

In Eureka Springs, Bill Fort's "Bill's Purple Pill" is legendary for its ability to break a cold down. And, he says, "it works on flu symptoms as well."

Fort also suggests using Zican, a zinc nasal spray, or zinc tablets ---- any kind of zinc in any form ---- and, "take your Vitamin C."

At Economy Drug, Pharmacist Guy Lessenberry is very keen on an over-the-counter product he stocks, Oscillococcinum. "It will oftentimes stop the flu and relieve flu symptoms ---- fever, chills, body aches and pain---- and shorten the duration. It's a natural product, and I can't keep it on the shelves."

Tuesday afternoon he said he was getting low on Oscillococcinum, but he had more coming in.

The dosage is taken every six hours, he said, and it will "Stop, turn around, reduce ---- whatever."

Of course, he also recommends Ibuprofen and Tylenol for aches, pains and fever, lots of fluids, and rest.

"Don't keep trying to work, or it will turn into something worse, like pneumonia. You're mainly treating symptoms, not getting a cure, and when the flu or a cold turns into something else, it's time to start getting antibiotics at your doctor's."

Lessenberry also recommends, like the other pharmacists, decongestants, expectorants and cough suppressants. "It's an individual thing," he said. "Not everything works for everyone. Have a dialogue with your pharmacist," he said, "but this Oscillococcinum stuff really works."

As of Dec. 13, Arkansas and Missouri were both among the 36 states reporting widespread outbreaks of influenza activity. The "widespread" classification indicates that the flu is more common than in the 12 states classified as having regional outbreaks. The "regional" classification indicates that flu is found in half of the state's counties.

While a particularly bad strain of the influenza A virus is already widespread in 24 states, and accounts for close to 90 percent of the flu cases in the U.S., local doctors report that the outbreak in Carroll County appears to primarily be an influenza B virus.

The nation-wide outbreak is shy of epidemic proportions, but the flu season does not normally peak until February.

As of Dec. 13, 7.2 percent of all deaths reported in 122 U.S. cities were due to pneumonia and influenza, one-half of one percent below the 7.7 percent epidemic threshold.

An herbal remedy, echinacea, is reported to reduce the duration of the flu virus, if symptoms are caught within the first one or two days.

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