Influenza, commonly called “the flu”, is a contagious viral infection that attacks the respiratory system. Getting the flu vaccine every year is your best defense against the flu. Flu shots are now available at the office of Dr. Craig Yunk at Celebration Family Physicians. It is important to get the flu vaccine, especially this season with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The flu and coronavirus can cause similar symptoms. Preventing the flu and reducing severity of symptoms can lessen the number of people needing to stay in the hospital.
Symptoms of seasonal flu can vary from person to person and can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death. Unlike the common cold, the flu can develop quickly, have more severe and prolonged symptoms.
Symptoms may include:
- Fever (temperature higher than 100ºF, or 37.8ºC) is the most common symptom
- Chills and sweats
- Muscle aches
- Shortness of Breath
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
People with the flu usually have a fever for two to five days. Flu symptoms usually improve over two to five days but can last for over a week. Weakness and fatigue may persist for several weeks.
Complications: Pneumonia, a lung infection, is the most common complication of the flu. Other complications include bronchitis, asthma flare-ups, and ear or sinus infections. People at risk of complications include:
- Young children under 5 years old and especially under 2 years old
- Adults older than 65
- Residents of nursing home and long-term care facilities
- Chronic illnesses such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease
- Weakened immune system
- Pregnant women
The flu is caused by the influenza virus. The virus spreads by tiny droplets when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes or talks. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby and on surface or objects. Touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your nose, mouth or eyes is another way of contracting the virus.
Getting the flu vaccine every year is your best defense against the flu. The CDC recommends everyone over 6 months old to receive the flu shot. The flu vaccine can reduce your risk of the flu, the severity of symptoms and developing complications. The vaccine takes about two weeks to induce an immune response, so it is best to get the flu vaccine at least two weeks before the onset of flu activity based on where you live.
The flu virus is constantly evolving and mutating which is why we have a new flu vaccine every year. Public health authorities predict the three or four strains that are more likely to cause infection during that year’s flu season.
Because the vaccine is not 100% effective, it is important to take other measures to reduce the spread of infection including:
- Washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Avoid touching your face
- Avoid crowds
- Avoid people who are sick
- Cleaning surfaces
The recommendations to prevent the spread of coronavirus can also help prevent the spread of the flu and include:
- Wearing a face mask
- Social distancing
People with the virus are contagious from about a day before symptoms appear until about five days after they start. Children and people with weakened immune systems may be contagious for a slightly longer time. Staying home for at least 24 hours until the fever is gone without taking any medication and avoiding being around others until feeling better will help control the spread of influenza.
Treating the symptoms of influenza can help you to feel better. If you have flu symptoms and are at risk for complications, you should see your doctor right away.
Flu symptoms usually improve over two to five days, while other symptoms may last for a week or longer. These measures may help ease your symptoms:
- Sleep helps your immune system fight infection.
- Drink plenty of fluids. If you are drinking enough, you should pass urine every three to five hours. Urine should be light yellow to nearly colorless.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can relieve fever, headache, and muscle aches. Aspirin and medicines that include aspirin are not recommended for children under 18 years old because aspirin can lead to a serious and potentially fatal condition called Reye syndrome.
- We do not recommend cough or cold medicine for children under age 6 years.
- Antiviral Medications — Antiviral medicines can be used to treat or prevent influenza. The medicine does not eliminate flu symptoms but can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms by about one day. Not every person with the flu needs an antiviral medicine; the decision is based upon several factors. If you are severely ill and/or have risk factors for developing complications, you will need an antiviral medication. People who are only mildly ill and have no risk factors for complications are usually treated with an antiviral medicine if symptoms started within 48 hours. After 48 hours, but they are not treated if they have had symptoms for more than 48 hours.
- Antiviral medicines that are used to treat the flu include oseltamivir (brand name: Tamiflu), zanamivir (brand name: Relenza), peramivir (brand name: Rapivab), and baloxavir (brand name: Xofluza). Oseltamivir is the antiviral used by Dr. Yunk and Celebration Family Physicians. Antiviral treatment is most effective when it is taken within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
- Side effects — Oseltamivir can cause mild side effects, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Most people are able to continue the medicine despite the side effects.
- Antibiotics — Antibiotics are NOT useful for treating viral illnesses such as influenza. Antibiotics should only be used if there is a bacterial complication of the flu such as bacterial pneumonia, ear infection, strep throat or sinusitis. Unnecessary use of antibiotics can lead to development of antibiotic resistance.