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Are You Ready for Flu Season? Here’s Your Survival Guide

What is the flu?

Influenza – also known as the flu – is a respiratory illness commonly caused by the influenza A virus or the influenza B virus.  These viruses are contagious and spread by airborne droplets that are present when people talk, sneeze or cough.

Influenza is most common during the months of October through May, but peaks between December and February. It is usually widespread.

Influenza affects the upper respiratory system, which includes the lungs, nose and throat. Influenza will usually go away without treatment. However, if you have another chronic condition or are especially vulnerable due to age, you are at higher risk of serious complications or death caused by the flu.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Influenza symptoms include:

  • Sudden onset of fever that is above 100.4° (But remember – not everyone who has the flu will have a fever.)
  • Body aches.
  • Headache.
  • Nonproductive cough.
  • Congestion or runny nose.
  • Sore throat.
  • Fatigue.
  • Vomiting and diarrhea.

In the elderly, flu symptoms may include low-grade fever, confusion and nasal obstruction.

Most patients who have the flu have fever, body aches and cold-like symptoms. Flu symptoms typically improve over 2 to 5 days, but the virus itself could last longer.

The most common complications that may arise from the flu are sinus infections and ear infections.  More serious complications can include pneumonia, myocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).

Many people may think they have the flu when it is just a common cold. Below are a few symptoms for comparison according to the CDC:

Signs and Symptoms Cold Flu
Symptom onset Gradual Sudden
Fever Rare Usual
Aches Slight Usual
Chills Uncommon Fairly Common
Fatigue, weakness Sometimes Usual
Sneezing Common Sometimes
Stuffy nose Common Sometimes
Sore throat Common Sometimes
Chest discomfort Mild to moderate Common
Headache Rare Common

Cold vs. Flu- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 8, 2019

How is the flu treated?

Treatment for influenza is dependent on timing. Although influenza will usually go away on its own, anti-viral medication can be prescribed to help lessen the duration of symptoms by 1 or 2 days. Anti-viral medications must be taken during a specific timeframe based on when your symptoms started. It’s important to reach out to your provider early if you think you have the flu. They can help you decide which medication is best.

Supportive therapy is also very important in helping tackle the flu. Increase fluids to prevent dehydration and take medications that will lower your fever and reduce pain (but remember – children with fever should not take aspirin). Additionally, staying at home, getting adequate rest and getting plenty of sleep are essential for getting over the flu.

How can I prevent the flu?

Prevention is key during flu season. According to the CDC, getting vaccinated is the best prevention.

Everyone 6 months and older should be vaccinated against the flu. High-risk populations that should receive an annual flu vaccine include:

  • Patients 65 years old and older.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Children younger than 6 months old.
  • Children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.
  • Children with neurologic conditions.
  • People with chronic conditions such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes, HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Getting vaccinated is the best protection against influenza for these populations. Other ways to prevent influenza spread include:

  • Avoiding close contact with individuals who are sick.
  • Taking a sick day and staying at home when you are sick.
  • Covering your mouth and nose properly with a tissue when coughing and sneezing if you are sick.
  • Practicing good hand hygiene.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Practicing good health habits such as sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces at home and work.
  • Being in good physical health, managing stress and following a healthy diet with proper sleep. This helps strengthen your immune system to help you fight off the flu.