How to prevent the flu – LIVING WELL Magazine

Get a flu shot

By Joan Weems, RN, LIVING WELL Magazine

Every year in the U.S., on average:

  •  Five to 20% of the population get the flu.
  • Approximately four million children get the flu.
  • $1.7 billion is spent on medical costs for children with the flu and an additional $2.1 billion is spent in indirect costs like missing work to care for sick children.
  • Thousands of people die from the flu.

Did you know:

  • For the years between 1976 and 2006, estimates of deaths from flu range from as low as 3,000 to as high as 49,000 per year.
  • Young children and adults that are 65 and older, pregnant women, people with asthma, diabetes, or people that already have a weakened immune system usually get much sicker and have more than the common flu symptoms.
  • The flu can turn into pneumonia and one can have a very high fever, making the existing medical condition much worse.
  • The flu can cause seizures and diarrhea in children.

When is the flu season?

Winter is generally considered peak flu season, with most outbreaks occurring in January and February. But sometimes flu cases can occur as early as October or November or as late as May.

Flu is very contagious

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days. Symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you even know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. The influenza virus or flu virus, as we normally call it, is spread from person to person. But people with the flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

What happens when I get the flu?

If you’re exposed to influenza, symptoms may appear out of the blue. Chills are often the first indication that you’ve got the flu, and fever of over 100 degrees is very common. You may experience a sore throat, dry cough, headaches, muscle aches and fatigue. Sometimes, the flu leaves patients feeling so ill, weak, and tired that they remain in bed for days.

What are the emergency warning signs?

In adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

If these happen, contact your physician.

The “Stomach Flu”

If you’ve heard people talk about “stomach flu,” it’s not actually the same as influenza, or a disease caused by the influenza virus. A disease commonly referred to as “the stomach flu,” or incorrectly as “the flu,” it’s caused by a virus or a bacteria that invades your body, and primary symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea.

Are there medicines to treat the flu?

Yes. There are drugs your doctor may prescribe for treating the flu called “antivirals.” These drugs can make you better faster and may also prevent serious complications.

How long should I stay home if I’m sick?

CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.

When to get the flu vaccine?

The CDC recommends taking the flu shot as soon as it is available. It takes the shot about two weeks to take effect and then you will be covered throughout the entire flu season and protection lasts about a year!

Will the vaccine make me sick?

No. The flu shot is an inactivated (killed) virus and will not cause the flu as it did many years ago when the flu shot was a live virus. People can have an allergic reaction but the risk of the vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small.