Flu Season — Preparation & Prevention
What causes the flu?
The flu is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. The influenza virus usually enters the body through mucus membranes in the mouth, nose, or eyes. The virus becomes airborne when a person with the flu coughs or sneezes. You can also catch the flu if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your mouth or nose.
What is the difference between the flu and a cold?
The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but are caused by different types of viruses with different symptoms. Flu symptoms tend to come on immediately and are typically more severe than a cold. Flu symptoms can include a fever, headaches, and/or body aches, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat and cough, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the flu and a cold, but your health care provider can give you a test within the first few days of your illness to determine if you have the flu.
Are there people who are at higher risk from the flu?
School-aged children are usually the first age group to get the flu and carry the virus home and to afterschool activities. Older adults, young children under age two, and people with specific health conditions, such as heart conditions, asthma, or diabetes, are at higher risk for serious flu complications. Most people who get the flu will recover within a few days to less than two weeks, but some people may develop complications, such as pneumonia, as a result of the flu.
When should I seek medical care if I have the flu?
You should seek medical care immediately if you experience difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting, seizures, or flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with a fever and worse cough.
What is the recommended treatment for the flu?
Treatment of the flu includes rest, fluids, and acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever and aches. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which ones are appropriate. Also see your doctor if your cough worsens, have trouble breathing or a persistent high fever, or produce bloody mucus, which can be signs of pneumonia.
What is the best prevention from the flu?
Flu shots or the nasal flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. An annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone age six months and older. The vaccine works by causing antibodies to develop in your body. These antibodies provide protection against infection from the flu virus. Also keep your hands germ-free with frequent and thorough hand washing.
Are there any risks in getting the flu vaccine?
There are very few risks. The antibody reaction may cause fatigue, muscle aches, or a low-grade fever in some people. The vaccine cannot cause the flu. Occasionally people who get vaccinated during flu season catch the flu in the two weeks before the vaccine has a chance to fully work.
By Amber Schmidt, DO
Amber Schmidt is a primary care physician at Week’s Lancaster Physicians
Office. For more information or for an appointment, please call 603-788-5095.