No one wants to get sick. But this time of the year the flu begins to ramp up and infect more people. It’s a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe symptoms. People who are older or have certain health conditions are at a higher risk for more serious complications from the flu.
The flu is caused by a virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs. When people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk, they send droplets into the air where they are potentially inhaled by other people. You can also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it, then touching your eyes, mouth or nose.
How do you know you’ve got the flu?
Flu symptoms come on quickly. Headache, muscle aches and joint pain accompanied by a fever and chills are a sign that you may have the flu. You may also have a sore throat, dry cough or stomach symptoms like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. In children, the fevers run higher than adults.
If you’re thinking that what you’ve read so far sounds a lot like what you’ve heard about COVID-19, you’re right. There are similarities between the two viruses. This chart is a comparison of the flu, COVID and the common cold.
If you get sick
Because of the current pandemic, you should contact your primary care provider at the first signs of illness. Your provider may suggest that you get tested for the coronavirus. If the test is negative, your health care provider can prescribe medications to help shorten the course of the illness.
With the flu, like many other illnesses, the best thing to do is get your rest. Try to isolate yourself in one room or part of your house to avoid infecting others. If you do get sick, plan to stay home until at least 24 hours after you are fever free without any medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin). Most people recover from the flu within one to two weeks.
Some additional things you can try at home to relieve the symptoms:
- Drink plenty of fluids. By staying hydrated, any mucus that develops will be thinner and easier to move through your system.
- If the air in your home is dry, use a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer. This can help ease coughs and congestion.
- Try a steam bath. Turn your shower on hot to let the bathroom fill with steam. Don’t get in the shower. Just sit in the bathroom and breath in the steam to help clear congestion.
- Use saline nose drops to release mucus in your nose. This is also a safe solution for children with a stuffy nose.
- Try the old fashioned remedy of chicken soup. Some research suggests that chicken soup has qualities that help abate flu symptoms.
- And there are several over the counter medications that can help ease flu symptoms. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist for recommendations.
Contact your provider again if the flu lingers longer than a couple of weeks or you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Earache or drainage from the ears
- 100.4 degree fever in an infant under 3 months
- 102 degree or higher fever in older children or adults
- Shortness of breath
You can reduce your chances of getting the flu by practicing the same safety measures that you’ve undoubtedly heard about the coronavirus:
- Limit contact with others, especially those who may be sick.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces.
- Wear a mask when you go out.
Of course the best way to prevent getting the flu is to get the annual flu vaccine. The best time to get a shot is September and October, before the flu season really gets going. Flu shots are available even into the spring so if you haven’t already, contact your healthcare provider to get your annual flu shot.