What is the Flu?

Influenza, known as the “flu” is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by the A and B influenza viruses.  These viruses are most prevalent during the winter and early spring months.  Influenza attacks the body by spreading through the upper and/or lower respiratory tracts.  Flu viruses are easily spread when an infected person secretes respiratory droplets when coughing, sneezing or even talking.  When you inhale droplets from the air that contains the flu virus or touch a surface that has the virus on it spreading occurs.   Thus, influenza viruses are easily spread among large groups of people that have close contact with one another.

Signs and Symptoms:

Flu symptoms can be mild or severe and can come on suddenly. Common symptoms include fever/chills, sore throat, cough, fatigue, muscles aches, runny or stuffy nose, and headache. People with the flu often have one or more of these symptoms

What to do if you have the flu:

  1. Get lots of rest. The flu can wipe you out and last for numerous days so getting the proper rest is important.
  2. Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) to reduce fever
  3. Treat coughing, sore throats and running noses with the appropriate over the counter medicine

When to see a physician:

Symptoms of the flu including a high fever that lasts more than three days, coughing that persists or gets worse (especially if associated with shortness of breath or chest pains), or the inability to recover in a reasonable time period should be seen by your doctor.  These things could signal a secondary bacterial infection that your doctor should be aware of and may be treated with prescription antibiotics. The flu can take a number of days to recover from so never hesitate to see your doctor if you are concerned. Remember the flu itself is a viral infection that IS NOT treated with antibiotics. There are antiviral medications for the flu that shorten the course of the illness by a day or so and must be taken within the first two days of symptom onset to have an effect.

Get vaccinated!

Getting vaccinated can help protect you from getting the flu and spreading it to others. Vaccination is extremely important for people who are at high risk of developing serious complications like pneumonia if they get sick with the flu, including those who have certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease. The vaccine is also critical for pregnant women and people over the age of 65, in whom 90% of deaths due to influenza occur. People who live with or care for others who are high risk of developing serious complications should also be vaccinated. Influenza viruses are always changing so getting vaccinated each year is important.  As soon as the vaccine becomes available, get it. It is important that you discuss your current medical conditions with your doctor prior to getting the flu vaccine to make sure the vaccine is right for you.  As with any vaccine, certain side effects and conditions are at risk so consulting your physician should always be your first step prior to vaccination.