When it comes to the flu, the more you know, the less likely you are to catch it. That is vital because this relatively common illness can prove to be deadly. By being familiar with the signs of flu and some flu prevention tips, you can protect yourself and your family.
As you learn more about flu symptoms and treatment, consider whether or not it may be wise to seek assistance in your home if you or a loved one is suffering from the flu. Complications may easily arise, especially if you are among certain high-risk portions of the population.
What is the Flu?
The flu is basically a viral infection that focuses its efforts on the respiratory system. It may be caused by various strains of the influenza A and B viruses. There also are influenza C viruses, but they are more rarely seen. In fact, flu viruses may evolve from year to year, becoming more resistant to treatment and vaccines.
Most people get sick for a few days before making a full recovery when they get the flu. However, some people experience serious and sometimes life-threatening complications. One of the most common of these is pneumonia, in which the illness becomes centered in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe.
Today, many methods of preventing the spread of the flu are available. The most important of these is the influenza vaccine. Thanks to the vaccine, millions of people around the world do not get the flu each year. Still, between five and 20 percent of the American population will get the flu every year. The good news is that the vast majority of these cases are resolved without serious complications.
This was not always the case. During the Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918 through 1919, an estimated 40 to 70 million people died of the flu. The earliest outbreak of the illness that year was reported in Kansas, but large segments of the population began to become ill in Europe as well. Doctors noticed that this variety of influenza was deadlier than most. Unfortunately, they had no vaccines to protect people.
It has been a century since the beginning of that deadly flu pandemic, but the illness remains a threat. It’s critical that people take action to protect themselves and their families from contracting and spreading this sickness.
When is Flu Season?
Winter and spring are the seasons in which the flu is most common. Cases may begin as early as September and continue until March or April. It makes sense to get a flu vaccine as soon as they become available. This is because the vaccine may take as long as two weeks to reach full effectiveness. During that time, you are still susceptible to getting sick. The quicker you act, the more time your body will have to develop the antibodies that it needs to protect itself.
What is the Difference Between Cold and Flu?
Most people have difficulty distinguishing between a cold and the flu. This is because many of the symptoms are the same. These include a cough and sore throat as well as difficulty breathing because of a stuffy or runny nose.
However, certain symptoms are more specific to the flu. The most common of these is a high temperature. Generally, if someone is suffering a fever of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, then it is likely that they have the flu instead of a cold. Chills and sweats often accompany a fever, and they can be particularly uncomfortable with such an extreme temperature.
Additionally, one of the more common flu symptoms is muscle aches. These most frequently occur in arms and legs or the back. Sometimes extremely uncomfortable, this level of achiness is rare with the common cold.
People with the flu also are more likely to experience loss of appetite and nausea. Severe stomach upset is one of the most disturbing of the symptoms of this illness, and it is more commonly seen in children than adults. In general, nausea is not a symptom of a cold.
It is possible for doctors to diagnose the flu. Generally, they conduct a physical examination and look for the signs of the flu. The most reliable way to arrive at a definite diagnosis is with a rapid influenza diagnostics test. A swab is used to collect a sample from the back of the patient’s throat. Within about 15 minutes, the test will reveal whether or not flu antigens are present in the sample. This may help the patient to know how to treat the symptoms and how long the illness will last.
What are the Symptoms of the Flu?
Many flu symptoms are quite common. Most people experience a cough, sore throat and stuffy nose. Frequently, these are among the earliest signs of flu. People also may notice that they have watery eyes and a persistent headache.
Feelings of fatigue may be extreme with the flu. In fact, fatigue with the flu is much more pronounced and noticeable when compared to a cold. A high fever frequently accompanies this illness. A fever of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit is not uncommon. Alternating bouts of sweating and chills generally go with the temperature.
Muscle aches are another common symptom. These typically occur in the legs, arms and back, but some people experience aches in other areas as well.
Loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting also may indicate the flu. Some people may experience diarrhea. These are among the most unpleasant of flu symptoms, and they occur more frequently in children than they do in adults.
It is important to understand that not everyone experiences every symptom of the flu. Some people do not have a fever, and others have no gastrointestinal distress.
People who feel extremely fatigued may want to be on the lookout for further symptoms like a sore throat and cough. This is because fatigue frequently is the first symptom of the flu. Other people may begin the illness by noticing a sore throat and headache.
Flu Symptoms in Adults and the Elderly
The elderly are susceptible to many serious complications with the flu. Most frequently, these complications take the form of pneumonia, though others may occur. Any adult or elderly person who experiences a temperature over 102 degrees for a prolonged time may need medical attention. Additionally, it’s important to seek advice regarding any difficulty breathing or pain in the chest. Those who feel faint, confused or disoriented also may want to check with their doctor.
Flu Symptoms in Children
The flu may be dangerous to children, particularly those that are quite young. It is not always necessary to take a child to the doctor when you suspect that they have the flu. However, you may wish to do so if certain symptoms appear or persist.
A fever over 103 degrees that lasts for more than three days warrants a doctor’s appointment as do any symptoms that last longer than 10 days. If the child has difficulty breathing, turns a bluish color or has an earache, then medical attention may be needed. Any irritability, seizures or loss of consciousness may be cause for emergency care.
How Long Does the Flu Last?
Signs of the flu may begin to manifest anywhere from one to four days after exposure. The main symptoms generally last between one or two weeks, though the most severe symptoms may subside in as little as two or three days. Nonetheless, people may feel the effects of the flu for weeks afterward. Depression, low energy, listlessness, and a persistent cough or stuffy nose may linger for quite some time. Frequently, the ability to exercise is impaired with people feeling fatigued far more quickly and easily than they did before having the flu.
Is the Flu Contagious?
The flu is one of the most infectious illnesses out there. It spreads with remarkable ease, and people may be able to infect others a full two days before they exhibit any symptoms. Frequently, the flu is spread through coughs or sneezes. It isn’t even necessary to be present in a particular place at the same time as the infected person.
If someone carelessly coughs or sneezes, they may expel the virus in respiratory droplets. These droplets may land on other people or on surfaces that people commonly touch. Accordingly, the flu may be picked up virtually anywhere. People get it from public transportation, telephones, handrails in stairways, and door handles. It can be transmitted while shaking hands or kissing as well. Most frequently, the uninfected person becomes infected when they touch their eyes, nose, or mouth with a hand that has the virus on it. Alternatively, the infected person may sneeze or cough directly on someone else.
A popular misnomer about the flu is that it is no longer contagious once the symptoms become obvious. This is patently untrue. An adult can still spread this illness even five to seven days after the illness begins in earnest. Children may be contagious for an even longer period of time. People who are dealing with a compromised immune system may be able to spread the virus for weeks after the symptoms subside.
How to Prevent the Flu
When it comes to how to avoid the flu, the most vital thing that anyone can do is to get an annual flu vaccine. Doctors recommend that nearly everyone who is older than six months should get vaccinated. Further, it is best to get the shot before the end of October, though it may be beneficial to get it even later in the year.
Certain segments of the population are at particularly high risk for contracting influenza and for suffering more severe and possibly life-threatening symptoms. People who are at high risk for these complications are recommended to be particularly vigilant about getting their flu shot. This includes individuals who are younger than five or older than 65. Other at-risk groups include pregnant women and anyone who lives in a retirement home, nursing facility or other shared housing situations.
Of course, it is critical for all health care personnel and others who regularly come into contact with these at-risk portions of the population to also be vaccinated against the flu as early as possible in the season.
Flu prevention tips go well beyond the vaccine. This is because the vaccine is not 100 percent effective. It may take as long as two weeks for the antibodies that the flu vaccine causes in the body to take effect. During this two-week period, people are still susceptible to getting influenza.
Every year doctors research which flu viruses they believe are the most likely to cause an outbreak during the upcoming flu season. These often are trivalent vaccines that provide protection against three different flu strains: influenza B virus, influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza A (H1N1) virus. The precise formulation of the vaccine may change from year to year as the virus changes. Accordingly, the flu vaccine may be more effective in some years than it is in others.
This is one of the reasons why it is crucial to get a flu vaccine every year. Additionally, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine gradually wears off over time, making it less and less effective. Getting a vaccine each year provides you with the new antibodies you need to protect yourself.
You may still get the flu even after being vaccinated, but studies demonstrate that the symptoms may be less severe in people who received the vaccine.
Using other flu prevention tips is a reliable way to protect yourself in addition to getting vaccinated. For instance, it is advisable to refrain from touching your face with your hands as this is one of the most common means through which the illness is spread.
Frequent handwashing is further recommended. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer and some tissues with you at all times. Cough or sneeze only into a tissue that can be immediately thrown away or into the crook of your elbow. Also, teach children from a young age about how to appropriately cover coughs and sneezes.
Use disinfectant wipes or cleaners on surfaces that are touched frequently like cell phones, remote controls, light switches, tables and counters. If someone is sick, do your best to minimize contact with them. Try to keep bathrooms as clean as possible.
If you are sick yourself, then keep taking these flu prevention tips to the heart so that you can help to stop the spread of this illness. Stay home from work and keep children home from school for as long as symptoms persist. Try to minimize your contact with other people so that you don’t risk making others ill.
How to Treat the Flu
Unfortunately, there are not many ways to speed the progression of the flu, and there is no cure. Doctors typically recommend staying in bed and taking plenty of liquids. Water is perhaps the most important fluid you can drink, but you also may try tea, broth and fruit juices.
Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug. The most common ones are called Tamiflu and Relenza. These medications are most effective when they are started shortly after symptoms appear. Typically, they shorten the illness by a day or so, and most people experience fewer serious complications when these medicines are taken.
It is vital to realize that these medications may have side effects like nausea and vomiting. Taking them with food may lessen the chances of experiencing these side effects.
In general, it is not necessary to visit your doctor when you have the flu. Simply staying home to rest and drinking plenty of fluids is the most recommended course of action. Doctors also may suggest taking steps to get great sleep and eating healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables.
Aches and pains may be controlled with over-the-counter remedies like Tylenol, ibuprofen and Motrin IB.
It is only necessary to seek medical care if you believe that you are experiencing severe symptoms or complications. A high, persistent fever, prolonged vomiting, chest pain, and difficulty breathing are all signs that medical attention should be sought immediately. A doctor appointment also may be necessary when a cough persists or congestion and headaches just won’t go away. These may be the signs of another health concern like a sinus infection that may need medical treatment.
Contact a Home Health Care Provider
It’s no easy thing to recover from the flu. If you are having difficulty caring for yourself or a family member as a result of the flu, then help is just a phone call away. Contact Centric Healthcare to find a knowledgeable and sympathetic person who can help you with daily tasks around the house and vital self-care. The flu can be dangerous. Don’t underestimate it, and be certain to ask for help when you need it.