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What is the flu and how to avoid it

Today, we’re going to go over what the flu is, it’s symptoms, and why it’s important to get your flu shot now! 

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a common viral infection that attacks the nose, lungs, and throat. Unlike the common cold, influenza comes on suddenly and can be deadly to groups like babies, elderly, pregnant women, and those with a weakened immune system.

When are we vulnerable to the flu?

While seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.

Is it the flu?

In addition to flu viruses, several other respiratory viruses also circulate during the flu season and can cause symptoms and illness similar to those seen with flu infection. These respiratory viruses include rhinovirus (one cause of the “common cold”) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). RSV is actually the most common cause of severe respiratory illness in young children as well as a leading cause of death from respiratory illness in those aged 65 years and older.

Flu symptoms

The flu is a nasty sickness that can bring on some pretty severe symptoms. You may feel all or some of these: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and body aches, fatigue, diarrhea, and vomiting. 

And while some people will recover after only a few days or weeks, others can develop some serious complications. These can include pneumonia, ear infections, inflammation of serious organs such as the heart or brain, and it can exacerbate current medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease. 

Avoiding The Flu

So how do you protect yourself and others from the flu? The number one flu shield is getting your flu shot! The flu shot is the single best way to protect yourself each year from the flu! So, how does the vaccine work?

2 weeks after getting the flu shot, your body begins to create antibodies against the infection with the viruses that were in the vaccine. Whatever research says is going to be the most common strand of the virus is what your vaccine will protect you against.

The traditional flu vaccine is made to protect you against the 3 main flu strains: H1N1, H3N2, and Influenza B! There’s also another flu vaccine that protects against a fourth Influenza B virus, this one is called a Quadrivalent Flu vaccine! 

It’s important to make sure you are vaccinated every season BEFORE the flu starts spreading in your community! As stated, the flu vaccine takes about 2 weeks after being given to take effect! According to the CDC because “the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time” and because the flu virus is constantly changing, it’s important to get a flu shot every year! 

Other Precautions to take when it’s Flu Season

  1. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  2. While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  3. If you are sick with flu symptoms, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  4. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  5. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  6. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  7. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

So what happens when you get the flu? What’s the best way to battle it? First, it’s important to not leave your home and get plenty of rest. You don’t want to spread the flu to others in your community, and most likely you will be too tired to get out of bed.

When you develop flu symptoms or think you might have the flu, you should contact your health care provider within the first 24 hours.

Contacting your health care provider as soon as possible will give you a chance to discuss your symptoms and health history with them, and determine if you need to be seen for an exam.  

The reason this contact needs to happen so quickly when you develop symptoms is that medications to fight the flu needs to be started within the first 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms to be effective.

Call in a sick day. After you call your health care provider, go ahead and call work or school and let them know you won’t be able to come in for the next few days. Trying to work or go to school when you have the flu is ineffective, and you will only expose others to the virus. You should stay home as much as possible while you’re sick and definitely at least as long as you have a fever.

Next, keep hydrated. It’s hard to stay hydrated when you aren’t feeling good, but dehydration is the quickest way to end up in the hospital getting IV fluids. Sips of water, broth, Pedialyte, or Gatorade are the easiest ways to keep yourself hydrated! A humidifier will help with congestion and head colds! And finally, when you can, bland foods are easier to keep down, so try to eat something. Saltines, toast, rice are just a few examples of foods that you might be able to keep down. 

The flu isn’t just a small cold, stuffy nose, or upset tummy. It should be taken very seriously by you and those in your community. A flu outbreak could mean laying in bed for weeks not feeling good at all.

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