Navigating Our Health: Five Things to Know About Flu
During this time of year, it is common to see lots of people coughing and staying home sick with various illnesses. However, while a cold can make you feel down and out, the flu could send some to the emergency department. If you haven’t had your flu shot yet, now is a great time to get that taken care of so you can avoid the influenza virus.
Here are some facts that you should know about the flu:
- The Flu is a contagious respiratory virus that is spread from person to person through tiny droplets from an infected person. These droplets are often made after sneezing, coughing, or talking. Less often, the virus can be spread after touching an object or surface that has the flu virus on it and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes. One of the best ways to prevent getting the flu is washing your hands and avoiding contact with someone who has the virus or symptoms of the virus, including coughing, sneezing, and fever.
- A Flu vaccine is recommended yearly to everyone six months and older to reduce the risk of getting the flu. Vaccination is even more important for groups at higher risk of developing complications from the flu. These groups include children, older adults, people with decreased immune systems, people with chronic diseases such as pulmonary, cardiac, renal, neurologic, hematologic, and metabolic disorders (such as diabetes), and pregnant women. People should tell their provider if they are allergic to eggs. People with severe egg allergies may need to be vaccinated in a medical setting and be supervised by healthcare provider for any type of allergic reaction.
- Flu symptoms usually start suddenly and may include the following:
- Fever and/or chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea – although this is less common in adults with the flu; it is more common in children.
It is important to note that not all people with the flu will present with all of the symptoms. People are most contagious in the first three to four days after an illness begins. Typically symptoms will appear quickly, within one to four days after being exposed to the virus.
- Influenza or the Flu is a virus – not a bacteria. This means antibiotics do not help in the treatment. Viruses typically have to “run their course” and treatment is focused on treating the symptoms associated with the flu, rather than the virus itself. Medications may be recommended to treat the fever, body aches, and cough. Antivirals, such as Tamiflu may also be prescribed by your provider. Antivirals, when taken early enough in the course of the virus, may decrease the severity of symptoms and shorten the length of the illness.
- It is possible to still get the flu even if you have had the vaccine, but you are less likely to develop a flu-related complication. The seasonal flu vaccine is created based on research indicating which influenza viruses will be most common for the following flu season. This is not always an exact match and it is possible to be exposed to a different flu strain than is in the vaccine. If the vaccine and viruses present in the community are a close match, the vaccines effectiveness is increased. Because vaccines work by developing antibodies to a virus it is possible getting the vaccine will reduce your risk of developing a flu-related complication even if the vaccine is not perfectly matched to this year’s flu season.