Flu Facts

Flu season is here and without proper prevention and care, it can cause a lot of misery. The flu virus is usually prominent from October through May, the time of year typically known as “flu season.”

Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. This virus can enter the body through mucus membranes in the mouth, nose, or eyes. A person with the flu can make the virus airborne after they sneeze or cough. It can be inhaled by anyone nearby. You can also catch the flu by touching a contaminated surface, like a telephone or a doorknob, and then touching your nose or mouth. The risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas like schools, buses, and crowded urban settings. The influenza virus can live for 2 to 8 hours on surfaces.

Flu symptoms, which can be mild or severe, can come on suddenly. Symptoms can appear one to four days after exposure to the virus. Common symptoms include fever of 100 degrees or higher, headache, muscle aches, chills, cough, tiredness. Runny noses are more common in children than adults.
 
Older adults, young children, and people with specific health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
 
There are a variety of options to relieve flu symptoms. People may take over-the-counter medicines like pain relievers and decongestants to relieve their discomfort.
 
The best way to prevent or lessen the severity of the flu is to get a flu vaccine each fall. You cannot get the flu from a seasonal vaccine. ThedaCare At Home, ThedaCare Physicians and other health care providers provide flu vaccinations. During flu season, everyone should wash their hands frequently to reduce the risk of transmitting germs to others.
 
Flu symptoms can be mild or severe, and can come on suddenly — be sure you know your flu treatment options so you can be prepared. Symptoms generally appear 1 to 4 days after exposure to the virus.
The common symptoms of the flu include:
  • Fever (100°F or greater)
  • Headachs
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Runny Nose (more common in children than adults)

What is the flu?

The flu, more scientifically known as influenza, 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.
When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus then becomes airborne and can be inhaled by anyone nearby. You can also get the flu if you’ve touched a contaminated surface like a telephone or a doorknob and then touch your nose or mouth. Of course, the risk of infection is greater in highly populated areas like schools, buses, and crowded urban settings.
 
Who is at risk?
In most communities, school-age children are the first age group to get the flu. They then carry the virus home and to after-school activities where they interact with other kids. The flu virus is usually prominent from October through May, the time of year typically known as “flu season.”
Older adults, young children, and people with specific health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications. On average annually in the US: 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu, over 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and about 23,600 people die from flu-related causes. Read more about the impact of the flu.
 
Reliving Flu Symptoms
There are a variety of options to relive flu symptoms. People with flu symptoms may take over-the-counter medicines like pain relievers and decongestants to relieve their discomfort.
 
There are several options available for temporary relief of flu symptoms.  Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments are medications you can get without a prescription from your doctor, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which are available at a pharmacy or grocery store. People who experience flu-like symptoms may take OTC medications (such as pain relievers and decongestants) to relieve these discomforts.  Common OTC Medicines Include:
  • Analgesics — Relieve aches and pains, and reduce fever.
  • Antihistamines — Work by helping dry a runny nose and watery eyes by blocking histamines; they often cause drowsiness.
  • Expectorants — Work by thinning mucus so that it can be coughed up more easily.
  • Cough suppressants — Work by quieting a cough. They are usually recommended for dry (non–mucus-producing) coughs.
  • Decongestants — Work by reducing nasal congestion.
Some OTCs can have negative side effects on your health. Please see your doctor or pharmacist for information on these medications.
 
Wash hands
The flu virus can spread by direct contact, such as sharing drinks, or through indirect contact, such as when an infected coworker sneezes on her hands and touches an object like the lunchroom microwave door. The influenza virus can live for 2 to 8 hours on surfaces. During flu season, everyone should wash their hands frequently to reduce the risk of transmitting germs to others.
 
Cover Sneezes and coughs
When you sneeze or cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue (not your hands), and be sure to throw the tissue away immediately.
You can also cough into your sleeve if you don't have a tissue handy. Hand sanitizers can also help. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth to keep germs away.
 
Flu Vaccines
The best way to prevent or lessen the severity of the flu is to get a flu shot each fall.
You cannot get the flu from a seasonal vaccine. Over the years, hundreds of millions of Americans have received flu shots. If you’re worried about shots, you may take the nasal spray.
 
Types of Flu Vaccines
There are 2 types of flu vaccines:
The “flu shot” is an inactivated (or killed) vaccine given with a needle, usually in the arm.
The nasal flu spray vaccine (also referred to as LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”) is an attenuated (or weakened) vaccine taken via a spray in the nose.
Scientists make a different flu vaccine every year because the strains of influenza viruses change from year to year. Nine to ten months before the flu season begins, a new vaccine is made from inactivated (killed) influenza viruses. Because the viruses have been killed, they cannot cause infection. The flu vaccine preparation is based on the strains of the flu viruses that are in circulation at the time. It includes those influenza Type A and Type B viruses expected to circulate the following winter.

Sometimes a new strain appears after the vaccine has been made and distributed to doctors’ offices and clinics. As a result, you still may get infected even if you get a flu shot.

By Michael Fetterolf, MD, family physician, ThedaCare Physician-New London