As of February 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than a million cases of the flu have been diagnosed in the United States this season. Hospitals and health centers have seen an early surge in “Flu B” which generally hits children and young adults hard but more recently, we’ve noted a rise in Flu A. With additional global concern surrounding the Coronavirus pushing flu out of the news headlines, we mustn’t lose sight of the flu, its continued presence and prevention opportunities.
What is the flu?
Flu, or influenza, is a viral disease of the respiratory system, including nose, throat and lungs. Common symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough and sore throat, as well as body aches, headache, chills, runny nose and tiredness. Flu can be a severe health problem for some people who are at higher risk for getting the virus, including pregnant women, infants, the elderly and people with medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease and weakened immune systems.
Flu is caused by a virus contained in the droplets of saliva and mucus from a sick person. It spreads easily through coughs and sneezes. For adults, flu can be spread from one day before symptoms appear to about one week after. Children can transmit the flu even longer after they are sick. And, viruses can also live for a short time on surfaces, such as keyboards, doorknobs, phones and toys.
How can you prevent the flu?
It seems simple, but one of the most important things you can do to avoid the virus and to protect yourself and others is to wash your hands! Hot water and soap are best to use for handwashing, but if you don’t have access to a sink, alcohol-based disposable wipes or gel sanitizers work well also. Other prevention actions include:
- Use household cleaners to wipe down surfaces that are touched and shared often like those keyboards, phones, soap dispensers and even light switches.
- If you do develop a cough or sneeze, be sure to use a tissue or to cough or sneeze into the inside of your elbow. Throw your tissues away – and of course, wash your hands.
- Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, where germs enter your system and try to avoid contact with someone who is sick. Stay away from crowds if you can.
Get vaccinated: It’s never too late
The best way to prevent getting the flu is to get the influenza vaccine. It’s readily available, and it’s never too early or too late to protect yourself and your family with the vaccine. People who are allergic to eggs or who have had a severe reaction in the past should not get a flu shot. If you are uncertain or have questions, talk with your doctor or a health care professional.
You have the flu. Now what?
Eating right, exercising regularly, washing your hands often, getting updated vaccinations and avoiding people who are sick are all crucial steps to help keep the flu virus from striking. However, despite your best efforts to stay healthy, you may still get that sinking feeling that you’ve contracted the flu.
Flu symptoms can last from a few days to a few weeks, but most go away on their own with at-home rest and drinking plenty of fluids such as water and tea.
One of the hardest things to do when they are sick is to stay home from work or other activities and just rest. But staying home is the best way to avoid contact with others so that the virus does not continue to spread. If you have a fever, you can take Motrin or Tylenol for fever relief and you should stay at home until you have been free from fever for at least 24 hours. Of course, if symptoms get worse or differ from those discussed here, contact your doctor.
If you suspect that you have the flu or are experiencing flu-like symptoms, please contact your primary care physician or visit your local emergency department if symptoms persist.
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.