Flu (infection with Influenza Virus) is a major health concern. Flu IS NOT the same as the common cold. It is much more severe and deadly. In fact, last year, many hospitals were operating at full capacity due to the high numbers of patients with severe cases of the flu and the sometimes-deadly complications. Sadly, over 80,000 Americans died from the flu during last year’s season, including over 180 children!
So, with flu season upon us, now is the time to be vigilant to avoid getting infected, prevent complications and get proper treatment. To prevent you or your loved ones from becoming one of many who will be struck with the flu this season, it is important to know about the risks, symptoms, prevention, and possible treatments.
Who Is at Increased Risk for Contracting the Flu?
While anyone can catch the flu if exposed to another person who is actively infected, those over 65 and young children are at higher risk for contracting the illness and are more likely to suffer from the severe complications that can be associated with it.
These 2 groups are more likely to contract the flu because their immune systems are less effective. They also develop weaker immunity after receiving an influenza vaccination. However, this SHOULD NOT discourage them from getting a flu shot as it is still much better than nothing.
These two groups are also more likely to develop complications when they contract the flu. These include pneumonia, dehydration, sepsis and even death.
Young children are also more likely to spread and contract the flu from others because they spend time around lots of other children at school, explore their surroundings orally and don’t practice good illness preventative practices such as hand washing or covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing.
How Can You Prevent the Flu?
The best defense against the flu is to take preventative measures. Here are some suggestions:
- Get a flu shot – This is the most effective step for preventing the flu. Flu vaccinations build your immune system against the virus. Contrary to some rumors, it IS NOT POSSIBLE to contract the flu from the vaccine. And though the vaccine does not guarantee you will avoid infection, it decreases the seriousness of the illness if infection occurs.
- Practice good hygiene – Proper hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes can reduce spreading the flu.
- Avoid close contact – avoid situations and areas where you will be in close contact with others during flu season (November-March), especially if you are at higher risk. Parents should not send their children to day care, school, church, etc. when experiencing flu-like symptoms.
- Avoid those who are sick – If someone is ill, make sure to avoid contact with them and frequently wash areas they touched as well as your hands.
What Are Symptoms of the Flu?
There are many symptoms that indicate the flu. Some of the most common include:
- Fever over 100.4 degrees.
- Chills and sweats.
- Muscle soreness and achiness.
- Weakness and fatigue.
- A sore throat and nasal congestion.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- A dry but persistent cough.
What Do You Do if You Think You Have the Flu?
If you think you have the flu, getting the proper diagnosis EARLY can help you to minimize the symptoms and risks. Since flu symptoms are sometimes similar to the common cold and other viral infections, it can be difficult to self-diagnose the condition Your physician may be able to make the diagnosis without a test. Alternatively, your physician may order one of two types of tests.
- Influenza Screening Test – the traditional influenza test is a rapid test for Influenza. The test usually takes 15 minutes to complete. However, results aren’t always reliable, as some years, it only detects about half of actual infections.
- Molecular Influenza Test – A molecular test checks for viral RNA and is able to detect the disease with accuracy of about 95%. It also takes about 15 minutes. This test is much more reliable but is not as commonly performed as it is less readily available.
How Can You Treat the Flu?
Even with good preventative efforts, you still may contract the flu, especially during peak season. The good news is, it can be treated. While traditional antibiotics are ineffective against the flu, there are several medications now effective at minimizing the length, severity and complications of influenza infections. The most common is Tamiflu which prevents the virus from growing within your body.
However, it is important to note that the treatments are only really effective if started within 48 hours of the onset of illness. So, if you think you have the flu, see your doctor right away, especially if you are very young, elderly, or have lots of other illnesses.
By following good preventative practices such as getting vaccinated, and knowing how to spot symptoms so you can seek early treatment, you can be better prepared this flu season and hopefully keep you and your family safe and healthy.