The Flu? No big deal ... Or is it?
Actually, influenza – commonly called the "flu" – can be a pretty serious illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control, compared with other viral respiratory infections – such as the common cold – infection from the "flu" often causes a more severe illness.
In an average year, influenza is associated with about 36,000 deaths nationwide and many more hospitalizations. Even less serious cases of influenza can keep individuals – both young and old – from work and school for up to several days.
When should I get my flu shot?
The best time to get a flu shot is in October or November. The flu season usually peaks between January and March.
Will a flu vaccine prevent stomach flu?
The flu is a respiratory illness. You cannot have a "stomach flu." Symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting are not common flu symptoms, except in very young children.
What is the difference between the cold and the flu?
If you have a cold:
- Your illness will usually begin slowly, two to three days after infection by the virus. It will normally last only two to seven days.
- You will most likely first notice a scratchy, sore throat, followed by sneezing and a runny nose.
- You may get a mild cough a few days later.
- Adults and older children usually don’t have a fever, but if they do, it will be very mild.
- Infants and young children, however, sometimes have fevers up to 102 degrees F.
If you have the flu:
- You will have a sudden headache and dry cough.
- You might have a runny nose and a sore throat.
- Your muscles will ache.
- You will be extremely tired.
- You can have a fever of up to 104 degrees F.
- You most likely will feel better in a couple of days, but the fatigue and cough can last for two weeks or longer.
Know Your Flu Symptoms
Symptoms for seasonal and H1N1 flu are similar and can come on quickly. They can include:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
Know When to Seek Medical Care
For most people, the best thing you can do is to stay home, rest and drink plenty of fluids. You will most likely recover from the flu in a few days and won’t require a visit to your health care provider. At this time of year, hospitals and urgent care centers are overcrowded with sick people, so you are advised to contact your doctor’s office first unless you are severely ill.
If you are at higher risk for flu complications, the flu can be more severe. You are considered at high risk if you are 65 years and older, have chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), or you are pregnant. Young children are also considered high risk.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that it is difficult to predict the number of flu-related deaths, it does report that "from the 1976-1977 season to the 2006-2007 flu season, flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people."
Please contact immediately contact your health care provider or go to the nearest Emergency department if you have any of the following potentially life-threatening symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness, confusion
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu symptoms that initially improve, but then return with cough and fever.
- Infants should be taken to an Emergency department if they have bluish or gray skin color, lack of responsiveness or extreme irritability.
Protect Yourself and Your Family
- Get a flu shot early in the season.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Thoroughly wash your hands.
- Use hand sanitizers.
- Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough into your elbow rather than your hands
- Wipe down all hard surfaces with disinfectant wipes.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each fall, but good health habits and antiviral medications can also help protect against the flu.
- Avoid close contact - Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick - If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose - Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
- Clean your hands - Washing your hands with soap and hot water or alcohol hand gel (containing at least 60-percent alcohol) often will help protect you from germs.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth - Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Learn more about the flu: