Flu: What You Need To Know

 

If you live in Savannah, Richmond Hill, Bryan County, or almost anywhere in the United States- there is an excellent chance that you either know someone who has recently had the flu or have had it yourself. Media outlets are reporting the worst flu season in a decade and rising fatalities from flu-related complications.  What do you need to know to protect yourself, your family and your community?

 

Influenza (also known as “The Flu”) is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs.  It can cause mild to severe illness and even in some cases lead to death, although this is NOT common, despite what many media outlets may lead you to believe.

 

How does The Flu make you feel?

The most common signs and symptoms of the flu include sudden onset of fever (or feeling feverish with chills), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue, and occasionally nausea/vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children).  People who have the flu often feel some or all of the above symptoms. Not everyone with the flu will have a fever.

How do you get The Flu?

The flu primarily spreads by tiny droplets created when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk.   These tiny droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or on surrounding surfaces.  It is also possible for a person to get the flu by touching one of these contaminated surfaces and then touching their own nose, mouth or eyes.   If that doesn’t blow your mind, you may also be able to give the flu to someone else before you even know you are sick!  Although people are most contagious in the first 3-4 days of their illness, it is likely that you are able to infect others with the flu 1 day before your symptoms develop and up to 7 days after you become sick.  Some people, especially children and those with weak immune symptoms may be able to infect others for an even longer time.

How long does it take to develop symptoms?

The average time from when you are exposed and infected to developing symptoms is 2 days- although it can be anywhere from 1-4 days.

How do I know if I have “The Flu”?

Often during a time of widespread flu activity, at the first sign of a runny nose, we fear the worst.  However, your respiratory illness may be the flu if you have fever, cough, sore throat runny or stuffy nose, body aches, chills and fatigue.   Some people with the flu may have respiratory symptoms without a fever.  Other viruses can also cause symptoms similar to the flu, so it is impossible to tell for sure if you have the flu based on symptoms alone.

Then, HOW is The Flu diagnosed??

Your healthcare provider will discuss your history and will review your symptoms.   They will perform a physical exam and evaluate you for complications. They may perform a rapid flu test in the office which takes about 15 minutes, but are not incredibly accurate.  Rapid flu testing has a high incidence of false-negative results, meaning you could still have the flu even if the test comes back negative.  Therefore it is not uncommon for your healthcare provider to diagnose you with the flu based on your symptoms and their clinical judgement.  Most people with flu symptoms do not require testing because the test results usually do not change how you are treated.

What is the difference between a cold and the flu?

The common cold and the flu both cause respiratory symptoms, but are caused by different viruses.  

How is The Flu treated?

There are prescription medications called “antiviral drugs” that can be used to treat the flu.  Antiviral drugs fight against the flu in your body and are not the same thing as antibiotics.  Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best when they are started within 48 hours of symptoms beginning. However, starting them later can still be beneficial, especially if the person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu.  Antiviral drugs can lessen the severity of the illness as well as help prevent serious flu complications, such as pneumonia.  Antiviral drugs are not required for most otherwise-healthy people who get the flu.

What should I do if I get The Flu?

  1. Take Antiviral Drugs if they are prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  2. Take precautions to protect others while you are sick
    • Limit contact with others as much as possible, to keep from infecting them.
    • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.  Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.   If you do not have a tissue, use your elbow.
    • Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water.   If unavailable, use hand sanitizer.
    • Disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated
  3. Stay home until you are completely better, without the aid of fever-reducing medication.  Remember, even if you feel better in a couple of days, you could still potentially infect others for up to 7 days.  This includes work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings. Ask your healthcare provider for a school or work note.

What are the warning signs of severe flu illness ?

In children :

  • Fast or trouble breathing
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not interacting or difficult to waken
  • Flu-like symptoms resolve and then return with a fever and worse cough
  • fever with a rash
  • no tears when crying or significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

In adults:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • 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

 

How can I avoid getting The Flu? 

  1. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.   While the vaccine may not always prevent you from contracting the flu entirely, it is still protective by giving your immune system a head start to fight the illness, and lessens the severity of illness and likelihood of developing serious complications related to the flu.
  2. Wash Your Hands often with soap and water.
  3. Avoid touching  your eyes, nose and mouth.
  4. Clean and Disinfect potentially contaminated surfaces often with a germicide the is effective against the flu.

Refrences: https://www.cdc.gov/flu