Influenza: It's Flu Season!
Influenza, or flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Flu activity begins to increase in October, peaks between December and February, and can last as late as May.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications during the 2017-2018 flu season.
· Infected droplets are spread as far as 6 feet away when people cough, sneeze, or talk. They land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or are inhaled into the lungs
· Spread by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it, and then touching your mouth or nose. The flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours
Symptoms, if there are any, begin 1-4 days after exposure. Even those without symptoms can spread the virus to others. You are contagious 1 day before symptoms start and up to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days:
· Fever or feeling feverish with chills
· Sore throat
· Runny or stuffy nose
· Muscle or body aches
· Vomiting and diarrhea, which is more common in children
Most recover in a few days to less than 2 weeks.
Emergency Warning Signs: Get Medical Help!
· Fast breathing or trouble breathing
· Bluish skin color
· Not drinking enough fluids
· Not waking up or not interacting
· Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
· Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
· Fever with a rash
· Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
· Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
· Sudden dizziness
· Severe or persistent vomiting
· Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
Diagnosis is made by testing nose secretions.
1. The single best way to protect against flu is to get vaccinated each year. Even though the flu vaccine may prove to be ineffective, it is the best defense we have against getting sick with and possibly dying from flu.
2. Stop the spread of germs:
· Avoid close contact with sick people
· While sick, limit contact with others
· If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without using fever-reducing meds), except to get medical care
· Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw it in the trash
· Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
· Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
· Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with flu germs
· Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first
3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your provider prescribes them
· If you get the flu, anti-viral drugs (require a prescription) can be used to treat your illness
· They can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick
· Work best when started within 2 days of getting sick
Learn more about flu and flu vaccine in my book, The Practical Patient: Your Personal Guide Through The Medical Maze!