Every year about this time our health and wellness is threatened by increasing cases of influenza (flu). This threat peaks between December and March, and often continues as an increased threat until May.
Flu is a very contagious respiratory illness caused by a variety of viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. The result can be mild to severe illness and, at times, death.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, body aches, headache, sore throat, and fatigue (and in children, sometimes vomiting and diarrhea).
The virus is spread to others in tiny droplets when individuals with the infection cough, sneeze, or talk. You can also acquire the virus from touching an object that has been contaminated, then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose. Infected individuals can spread the virus to others as early as a day before they have symptoms.
Complications of flu can include pneumonia, ear infection, sinus infection, dehydration, worsening of chronic medical conditions, inflammation of the heart, brain, and muscles, and multiple organ failure.
Those at highest risk for these complications are people 65 and older, individuals with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and young children.
You can take steps to protect yourself and your family from this menace. The single most important action is yearly vaccination for everyone age 6 months and over. Receiving the vaccination during pregnancy may protect your infant for several months after delivery.
You can also protect yourself by:
- Washing your hands frequently
- Getting adequate sleep and rest
- Being physically active
- Eating healthfully
- Not touching your mouth, nose, or eyes
You can protect others from flu by:
- Coughing/sneezing into tissues or the crook of the elbow
- Not going to work or school when sick
Despite your best efforts you may still contract flu this season. If this happens to you, you should:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take over-the-counter medications for pain and fever
- Discuss your symptoms with your healthcare provider - medications known as antivirals can reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms if started early enough in the illness.