How to avoid the flu
As flu season arrives, you may find yourself reading up on flu symptoms and treatments as well as how to avoid the flu. Although the "flu" has often been used to refer to viruses that infect the stomach and cause vomiting and diarrhea, the flu virus is actually a respiratory infection that most commonly presents with a cough, sore throat, headache and fever. There are several steps that can help you avoid the flu.
What are the signs and symptoms of the flu?
- Fever (greater than 100F)
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
Symptoms vary between individuals and may include runny nose and nasal congestion similar to the common cold. Fevers may last between 2-5 days though the flu may linger for a week or more. Typically, symptoms begin to improve after a few days.
Are there complications?
Flu can cause serious complications for some individuals especially those over 65 years of age, pregnant women, young children and those with decreased immune systems or chronic health conditions (such as diabetes mellitus, COPD, asthma). In these individuals, the viral infection may lead to severe symptoms and the onset of pneumonia ear infections or worsened symptoms of chronic illnesses that may require hospitalization. Therefore it is very important to take extra precautions and know how to avoid the flu especially if at higher risk of complications.
How does the virus spread?
Flu is very contagious and spreads by respiratory droplets - this means it may transfer through the air by sneezing coughing close contact with another person or by direct contact (such as sharing the same glass as another person touching an infected surface). The virus can live about 24 hours on a hard surface unless the surface is cleaned well. Here are a few tips for how to avoid the flu:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue to minimize spreading to your hands.
- Avoid close contact with others who are sick
- If you become sick with the flu - stay home.
What are the treatments?
Although most individuals recover without any treatment within 1-2 weeks healthcare providers may prescribe antiviral therapy to help shorten the course of illness. These medications do not immediately cure the flu but may decrease the length of symptoms by a day or so if started in the first 1-2 days of symptom onset. Overall influenza is treated by managing the symptoms:
- Rest to allow your body to fight the infection and recover
- Increase fluids - drink plenty of water sports drinks broths to keep your body hydrated
- Tylenol or ibuprofen to treat headaches muscle aches and fever
For more information, please talk with your healthcare provider. We would be happy to answer your questions and provide any additional information. The CDC is also a wonderful resource for learning more about influenza.