How do I know if I have it?
Influenza usually starts suddenly and may include the following symptoms, some of which are also signs of the common cold:
- Fever (usually above 101 degrees)
- Tiredness (can be extreme)
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults)
However, if you experience these symptoms but do not experience respiratory symptoms, it is unlikely that you have the flu.
What are the risks?
In some people, the flu can cause serious complications, including bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children and adults may develop sinus problems and ear infections.
How is the flu spread?
The flu usually spreads from person to person in respiratory droplets when people who are infected cough or sneeze. People occasionally may become infected by touching something with influenza virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. Healthy adults may be able to infect others 1 day before getting symptoms and up to 5 days after getting sick. Therefore, it is possible to give someone the flu before you know you are sick as well as while you are sick.
How can we avoid spreading the flu?
Some simple hygienic behaviors that can help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses such as the flu are:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze—throw the tissue away after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If you are not near water, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- If you get the flu, stay home from work, school, and social gatherings. In this way you will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs often spread this way.
What about the flu vaccine?
The single best way to protect yourself and others against influenza is to get a flu vaccination each year. Two kinds of flu vaccine are available in the United States:
- The "flu shot"—an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine—a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for “live attenuated influenza vaccine”). LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 5 years to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but you can still get vaccinated in December and later. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as springtime.
What are some of these antiviral medications?
Four antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir and oseltamivir) (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/antiviral/index.htm) are approved for use in preventing the flu. These are prescription medications, and a doctor should be consulted before they are used. During the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 influenza seasons, CDC recommends against the use of amantadine or rimandatine for the treatment or prophylaxis of influenza in the United States because the most commonly circulating strains of seasonal influenza viruses have a resistance against these drugs. For details, see the January 14, 2006 CDC Health Alert Notice (HAN): www.cdc.gov/flu/han011406.htm.
What should I do if I get sick?
It is very difficult to distinguish the flu from other infections on the basis of symptoms alone. A doctor’s exam may be needed to tell whether you have developed the flu or a complication of the flu. There are tests that can determine if you have the flu as long you are tested within the first 2 or 3 days of illness.
If you develop flu-like symptoms and are concerned about your illness, especially if are at high risk for complications of the flu, you should consult your health-care provider. Those at high risk for complications include people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and young children.
Your doctor may also recommend use of an antiviral medication (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/antiviral/index.htm) to help treat the flu. Four antiviral drugs (amantadine, rimantadine, zanamavir, and oseltamivir) are approved for treatment of the flu. During the 2005-2006 influenza season, CDC recommends against the use of amantadine or rimandatine for the treatment or prophylaxis of influenza in the United States. (For details, see the January 14, 2006 CDC Health Alert Notice [HAN]: www.cdc.gov/flu/han011406.htm.) These are prescription medications, and a doctor should be consulted before the drugs are used. Antiviral treatment lasts for 5 days and must be started within 2 days of illness. Therefore, if you get flu-like symptoms, seek medical care early.
If you get the flu, get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. Also, you can take medications such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol¨) to relieve the fever and muscle aches associated with the flu. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever.
Why shop with the sniffles? Start preparing for flu season now by picking up a few items every time you shop. By fall, if someone falls ill, you will have what you need. And, if you buy enough to last two weeks, you will be better prepared for a worldwide flu pandemic. Either way, your first step won’t have to be out of the house.
Click here for a shopping list.