Flu is the term we use to describe a constellation of symptoms that includes fever, headache, body aches, sore throat, fatigue, cough, chills and runny nose. The most common type of flu is the seasonal flu, also known as influenza A or B (IAB). Influenza can be caused by different types of viruses and usually causes mild illness with few complications.
There are many possible reasons for you to get sick with the flu. It can be passed from person to person easily through contact, so if you have close family members who are ill, especially those in nursing homes or hospitals, it would be wise to take precautions to avoid getting sick yourself. You should wear a mask when around people who are coughing or sneezing, wash your hands often and make sure someone else does it for you because germs spread very easily through touching.
Another reason that flu can come on suddenly is stress. When you’re stressed out, your immune system doesn’t work as well. This can lead to an infection that seems more serious than usual. If this happens, make sure you talk to your doctor about how you feel and what you do to help yourself relax.
You may be at higher risk of catching flu if you have one of these conditions:
a weakened immune system due to medications such as steroids, chemotherapy or AIDS;
chronic lung disease;
mental health issues;
low blood cell counts;
being over 65 years old; or
How flu spreads
The flu virus is spread primarily from person to person through droplets made during coughing and sneezing. Your mouth and nose are also infected with flu virus particles, so you can actually infect other people just by breathing next to them.
It’s important to remember that flu symptoms appear within 24-48 hours after a person gets sick. That means that if you’re exposed to someone who has the flu, but don’t show any signs of being sick until 48 hours after exposure, then you probably didn’t contract the flu. People who have signs of the flu within two days of exposure are likely to develop the flu themselves.
Here are some tips to avoid getting sick with the flu:
Stay home –
If you’re feeling sick, stay home from school or work. If you think you might be coming down with the flu, call your employer to let him/her know so they can keep your shift open while you recover.
Wash your hands often and thoroughly –
The best way to stop spreading the flu is not to catch it in the first place. So, wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap, especially before eating, preparing food, going to the bathroom, or caring for others. And, never touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid sharing drinks, utensils and cups –
When you’re dining out, make sure your plate isn’t shared and that everyone uses his/her own utensil. And, if you’re using a straw, make sure it goes into the drink, not your mouth!
Cover your mouth –
Cover your mouth when you sneeze and cough. Also, cover your mouth when you blow your nose. This will help prevent the spread of germs.
Clean surfaces regularly –
When you’re done using the restroom, turn off the faucet and flush the toilet. Wash your hands, face, arms, hair and feet after leaving public areas, including restaurants, offices, stores, etc. If possible, clean your phone, computer keyboard and mouse before and after using them.
Cough or sneeze into your elbow –
Cough or sneeze into your sleeve instead of your hand so you don’t contaminate anyone else.
Get vaccinated –
Getting vaccinated will protect you in the event you do become ill with the flu. There are now several flu vaccines available, including nasal spray, nasal mist, injection and live attenuated virus vaccine. These vaccines provide protection against both types of influenza.
Antiviral medications –
Antiviral drugs are used to treat severe cases of flu, although there isn’t yet enough evidence to support their effectiveness in preventing the flu. They’re effective in treating infections caused by influenza virus.
Many people with chronic illnesses need to take certain medications throughout the year to maintain good health. Some medications can weaken the immune system, making it easier for you to contract the flu. Make sure you discuss all of your medications with your healthcare provider to determine if you need to adjust them based on your flu symptoms.
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If you do get the flu, here’s what to do:
- Take Tylenol with codeine or acetaminophen every four hours as needed, unless otherwise directed by your physician. If you need extra relief from pain, you can also take OTC ibuprofen, naproxen sodium or aspirin.
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Rest, eat healthy foods, and try to rest whenever you can.
- Call your healthcare provider if you experience shortness of breath, chest pressure, or pain. If you’ve had the flu before, your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medication or antibiotics to alleviate symptoms.
Treatment for the flu includes staying hydrated, taking pain relievers and resting. For severe cases, doctors may prescribe antiviral medications. Treatment for children involves rest and drinking lots of fluids. Adults can receive the same treatment, plus anti-viral medications.