Didn’t get the flu shot? Here’s what a poker player can do

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The mid-term elections are history. Last year’s incumbent, H1N1-swine flu, was voted out of office and has gone into hibernation for at least the next few decades. Newcomer, Perth-H3N2, succeeded in winning the hearts, minds and nostrils of the voters and will be making its presence known throughout the country during the next few months.

Readers of this column last month learned this year the Centers for Disease Control advised every poker player in America to get the flu shot. Actually, they didn’t specifically mention poker players, but they did say everyone but newborns should get it, so that includes all poker players.

You can imagine if you’re sitting in a room with 100 poker players and one sniffley-nosed kid is dripping flu viruses on the chips, it won’t be long before everyone in the room suffers a bad beat.

So get the shot; it’s safe and effective. You might get a few muscle aches or a mild fever from the shot, but it beats the heck out of getting the flu. And for you weak-passive players who hate needles, there’s a nasal spray version that won’t make you cry.

This month we’ll focus on how you can avoid getting exposed, what you should do if you come into contact with someone who has the flu and what you should do if you think you may actually have gotten it yourself.

First, if you took my advice and got the shot, stop reading immediately. You don’t have the flu and you’re not going to get it. Skip to the end of the column. See you next month.

But, if you haven’t rolled up your sleeve and want to avoid getting exposed to the flu, just take some reasonable precautions. Eating at the poker table, especially with your fingers, is an obvious blunder during flu season. Once you start handling chips and cards, keep your hands away from your nose and mouth as much as possible. Phil Hellmuth take note: The Navarro Perch with hands covering mouth is not the safest position for flu avoidance. Soap, hot water and hand sanitizer are all good things.

What if you’ve just won a big pot from that kid with the runny nose and you just know you’ve been exposed? Not much to say here. There’s no flu-exposure morning-after pill. Nevertheless, you do NOT have to visit your doctor or local ER just because you think you got exposed. We’re not going to do anything except give you the shot, which you can get a lot cheaper at your local pharmacy.

So how do you know if you’ve really gotten the flu? Think of it as a really, REALLY nasty cold. You’re likely to have a runny nose, sore throat, dry cough, fever, fatigue, headache and diffuse muscle aches. The main thing to do is to go home, get in bed, have some soup and play poker online. Most flu sufferers don’t need anything more sophisticated than some Tylenol and a box of Kleenex.

“But there are flu tests! I want to know if I’ve really got it. I should get a flu test, right?” Well, actually, probably not. You might feel miserable and you might be intensely curious, but knowing whether you really have the flu rather than a bad cold will not change anything. If you truly are deathly ill or you have some pretty serious chronic medical conditions like bad heart disease or lung disease or you have a weak immune system, and you need to be admitted into the hospital, then a flu test might make some sense. For most people, though, getting a flu test is a waste of money.

Every winter, I see dozens of patients in the ER who demand I do a flu test and yet almost every year, the flu experts recommend against routine testing. My dilemma: Do the test, waste the money and spend lots of extra health care dollars or don’t do the test, piss off the patients and watch my satisfaction scores go to hell. Cut me a break. Be a smart patient. Stay home. Have some soup. Soup is good.

“What about antibiotics? I could take those.” Again, no. Antibiotics don’t kill viruses. End of story. Don’t ask again.

“OK,” you say, “I really meant anti-virals. I want some of those.”

Here’s the straight scoop: There’s no magic medicine. Relenza and Tamiflu are expensive; they’ve got unpleasant side effects; they have to be started within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms and they don’t work very well. Heck, it usually takes me more than 48 hours to even admit to myself that I’m sick.

Most docs reserve anti-virals for seriously ill, hospitalized or high-risk patients. Chances are most young guns or even most middle-aged poker players like me don’t need them. If you’re really sick but only for one or two days and you don’t mind spending $75 to get better one or two days quicker, OK, maybe. Otherwise think Tylenol and soup.

So here are my final few pieces of advice. (1) Get the shot. Everyone should get it. So should you. Don’t be stubborn about this. (2) If you get sick, you probably don’t need a flu test or anti-virals. Neither one helps much unless you are deathly ill. Just stay home. If you are like me, you can lose your bankroll online even quicker than in a live casino. (3) Did I mention soup?

— An avid poker player, Frank Toscano, M.D. is a board-certified emergency physician with more than 28 years of front-line experience.He’s medicaldirector for Red Bamboo Medi Spa in Clearwater, Fla. Email your poker-healthquestions to ftoscano@redbamboomedispa.com