What are you doing to keep yourself healthy? Would you know if it was the flu or a simple cold? Here are some facts that may help you stay healthy this fall and winter season.
What is the flu?
The flu or influenza is a viral respiratory infection. It is not related to the virus that causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea that people commonly call the ‘stomach flu’. The virus comes in three types: influenza A, B and C.
Influenza C is less serious and only causes simple cold like symptoms. Types A and B are capable of causing more serious illnesses. Both influenza A and B change their RNA structure frequently, creating new forms of the virus yearly. Without previous exposure to the virus we arenít able to develop immunity to it, so each year the new viruses have the ability to make large numbers of people ill. New flu vaccine must be manufactured each year to protect against the new strains of virus. This is why you need to get a flu shot each year.
Influenza strikes more commonly in the fall and winter months. It is spread by coughing and sneezing, which allows the virus to become airborne. It is then inhaled by anyone near it. It can also be spread by contaminated surfaces such as: counter tops, pens, pencils, door handles, telephones, eating utensils, and even handshakes.
How can I prevent it?
There are many things that you can do to prevent getting the flu. First of all we recommend a flu shot. This is especially important for people over 50 years old and those who have a chronic health problems or a weakened immune system. The flu shot helps protect against the most deadly forms of influenza or the strains that can cause more complications such as pneumonia or encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The best time of year to get the flu shot is in late October or November before flu season hits. This allows your body time to produce antibodies against the strain of flu you have just been vaccinated against.
Other things that you can do to decrease your risk from getting the flu:
- Wash your hands frequently, and keep them away from your mouth, nose and eyes after you have touched something that may be contaminated with germs.
- Clean countertops and other surfaces with an antibacterial solution.
- Keep your distance from people who are sick.
- Sit in well-ventilated areas or open windows to air out your home.
- Do not share eating utensils or drinking glasses with someone who is sick.
- Do not keep toothbrushes next to each other, clean the toothbrush holder often and dispose of your toothbrush after you have been sick.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle: drink plenty of water, less caffeine, do not smoke or expose yourself to second hand smoke, eat well balanced meals, and exercise.
Can antibiotics cure the flu?
No. Influenza is a virus and antibiotics are not effective against viruses, only bacterial infections. People who are at high risk for developing complications from the flu may be put on antiviral mediation, which must be taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms. These antiviral medications reduce the duration of symptoms and fever by about 24 hours on average.
How do I treat the flu?
If your symptoms are flu like (see chart below) treatment includes: stay at home and rest; cover your mouth if you sneeze or cough, then wash your hands frequently; drink lots of water and juices to prevent dehydration from the fever; take Tylenol (Acetaminophen) as directed on the bottle for fever if not contraindicated. Never give aspirin to a child under 12 years old with a viral infection. A serious reaction known as Reyeís syndrome can occur.
You are contagious for the first 3-4 days after your symptoms appear, so stay at home and don’t expose others. Call your nurse practitioner or physician if your symptoms worsen, or if you have: shortness of breath, or fever greater than or equal to 103.0 °F even with treatment with Tylenol (Acetaminophen). The flu can be a serious illness if complications occur such as pneumonia or encephalitis. A healthy adult or child may be bedridden for 3-5 days, but full recovery occurs. The cough and fatigue may continue to last for 3-4 weeks.
Symptoms Common Cold Influenza (Flu)
- Onset Gradual onset of symptoms Sudden onset of symptoms
- Fever RARE Characteristic High (102-104°F) lasting 3-4 days.
- General Aches & Pains Slight Usual; often severe
- Headache Rare Prominent
- Cough Hacking Dry (non-productive); can become severe
- Chest discomfort Mild to moderate Common often severe
- Fatigue, Weakness Very mild Can last up to 2 to 3 weeks
- Stuffy nose Common Sometimes
- Sneezing Usual Sometimes
- Sore Throat Common Sometimes
- Extreme Exhaustion Never Early and severe
The flu shot is available at UIS Health Services. Call us for more information at 217-206-6676.