The Flu: What You Should Know

Woman with flu

The flu is not just a really bad cold — it is a contagious illness that affects the nose, throat, lungs and other parts of the body. It can spread quickly from one person to another and can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot.

It’s not too late. Even though the flu is widespread you can still benefit by getting a flu shot.

Every year in the U.S., on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu,
More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu complications each year and  12,000 to 56,000 deaths occur each year.

Contact your local health department for information about flu vaccine clinics in your county

You can’t get the flu from getting the flu vaccine

A common misconception is that getting a flu shot gives you the flu.
The flu vaccine does not give you the flu. It stimulates your body to produce antibodies. These antibodies protect you from flu viruses. Once you get the flu vaccine, it takes about two weeks for it to be fully effective. Until then, you are still at risk for getting the flu.

How the virus is spread

The flu usually spreads person to person when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes. Sometimes people get the flu because they touch an object or surface with flu virus on it — and then touch their mouth or nose.

How do I know if I have the flu?

You may have the flu if you have some or all of these symptoms:

  • fever*
  • a cough
  • a sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • body aches
  • a headache
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Call a doctor or health care professional if you have any of the above symptoms.

What To Do If You Have the Flu

  • Stay home and get plenty of rest.
    Mind your flu manners. On the first day you have symptoms, call your work or school and tell them you won’t be coming in for a few days. You’re sick — and very contagious! Take advantage of downtime and give your body some much-needed rest. Curl up on the couch and spend some time reading, watching DVDs, or just cat-napping while your body battles the virus.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
    Make sure you get more liquids. It doesn’t all have to be water — fruit juices, sports drinks, and broth-based soups (like chicken noodle soup) also count. They keep your respiratory system hydrated and turn that nasty, thick mucus into a thin liquid you can cough up and spit out. That’s good — if it builds up in your lungs it could lead to an infection.
  • Treat aches and fever.
    Got fever? That’s because your body has turned up the heat to fight off the flu virus.
  • Treat it and the aches that come with it with over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Ask your doctor which is right for you.
  • Never give aspirin to anyone younger than 19. It’s linked to a condition known as Reye’s syndrome, a serious illness that can damage the brain and liver.
  • Take care of your cough.
    Over-the-counter treatments can calm your hack. Try an expectorant, which turns mucus into a liquid so you can cough it up. Don’t give an over-the-counter cough or cold medicine to children under 4.
  • Breathe in steam.
    Fill the bathroom sink with hot water. Add 1 teaspoon of an over-the-counter menthol rub and breathe in the steam for several minutes until you feel better. You can also add a few drops of menthol or eucalyptus oil. They can open your airways, ease congestion, and make it easier to breathe. There’s no proof, though, that any of these really help with the symptoms.
  • Take an antiviral.
    You take these drugs when symptoms start. They can lessen and shorten the flu. Call your doctor if you have signs of the flu or think you were exposed, especially if you have a condition like diabetes, heart disease, or HIV that makes you more likely to have complications.

The CDC recommends oseltamivir (Tamiflu), peramivir (Rapivab), or zanamivir (Relenza). The drugs work best when you get them within 48 hours of your first symptoms. They can cut your case of flu by a day if you get them early on. They can also help prevent the flu in someone who’s just been exposed.

Stay healthy this year.

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