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Flu Season

Nurse holding up a flu shot sign

Anyone can get the flu. Learn how you can protect yourself from the flu or what to do if you think you have the flu.

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What is the Flu?

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than 2 weeks, but some people will develop life-threatening complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu. Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems from influenza can happen at any age. People age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children are more likely to get complications from influenza.

How does the Flu spread?

The main way that influenza viruses are spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. (This is called "droplet spread.") This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else's mouth or nose) before washing their hands.

How long can a sick person spread flu to others?

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 10 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some persons can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons can still spread the virus to others.

Flu Facts

Every year in the United States, on average:

  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related complications; and
  • about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes

Flu vs. Cold?

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu.

PROBABLY A COLD: Temperature less than 100°F (37.8°C), with one or more of the following:  cough, sore throat, runny nose, stuffy nose.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Rest and home care as needed

People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

Flu Symptoms

The flu usually comes on suddenly and may include what is referred to as "flu-like symptoms." 

MAY BE THE FLU: Temperature greater than 100°F (37.8°C), with sore throat or cough, and one or more of the following:

  • Significant fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Chills

RECOMMENDATIONS: 

  • Consider alternative diagnoses such as strep throat
  • Stay home & rest until no fever for at least 24 hours without taking fever-reducing medication
  • See CDC treatment information: cdc.gov/flu/treatment

Adults and Children at High Risk from Flu

Some people are at high risk of developing serious complications if they get sick with flu-like symptoms:

  • Children younger than 5 years, especially those under 2
  • Adults 65 and older
  • Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease

ALL adults and children with these additional flu-like symptoms are at greater risk if:

  • Experiencing shortness of breath, difficult or painful breathing
  • A child with fever is too quiet and less active than normal, refuses to play or is agitated
  • Illness returns after apparent recovery
  • Individual is severely ill and you need help caring for him/her

RECOMMENDATIONS: If you are in this high risk group or if you have the additional symptoms, we recommend you take the following steps:

  1. Call your health care provider
  2. FOR INFANTS: If child is less than 3 months old, DO NOT give fever-reducing medicine before seeking medical advice.

Emergency Warning Signs

Emergency warning signs in CHILDREN are the following:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color or lips
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

RECOMMENDATIONS: 

  • CONTACT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY OR GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. CALL 911 IF NECESSARY.
  • In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:
    • Being unable to eat
    • Has trouble breathing
    • Has no tears when crying
    • Has significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
Emergency warning signs in ADULTS are the following:
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

RECOMMENDATIONS: CONTACT YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY OR GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM. CALL 911 IF NECESSARY.

Note: There may be situations where some conditions may be managed at home with proper intervention

Preventing the Flu

Here’s what you can do to protect yourself and others:

  1. Get yourself and your family vaccinated.
  • Everyone 6 months or older should have a flu shot.
  • The flu shot does not and cannot cause flu illness.
  • If you are pregnant or considering pregnancy, please get a flu vaccine to reduce the risk of illness in your baby.
  1. Take preventive actions:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Stay away from people who are sick

What do I need to think about for myself and my family?

  • To help boost your immune system, get plenty of rest, exercise, and eat properly.
  • Stay home from work or school if you experience flu symptoms. Taking it easy could help you feel better sooner and also will slow the spread of disease to others.
  • If you think you have been exposed to someone with flu, or are starting to have flu symptoms, call your health care provider. Certain medications can help if you start taking them within the first 48 hours.
  • To reduce the spread of germs, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Pay attention to hand-washing. After using the bathroom, before eating and before and after preparing food, clean your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing or hum “Happy Birthday” twice. Carry a waterless hand gel and wash your hands frequently.
  • Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as door knobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.

If You Get the Flu

  • Stay home from work or school. Always wear a surgical mask if you must leave the house while you are still contagious
  • Get lots of rest, drink plenty of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco.
  • There are over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve the symptoms of the flu (but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever).
  • Remember that serious illness from the flu is more likely in certain groups of people including people 65 and older, pregnant women, people with certain chronic medical conditions and young children.
  • Consult your doctor early on for the best treatment, but also be aware of emergency warning signs that require urgent medical attention.

When isolated at home:​

  • Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick do not need to be cleaned separately, but they must be thoroughly washed before someone else uses them.
  • Keep surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label.
  • People who are sick should try and stay in one part of the house with the door shut if possible.
  • It is best if the sick use a separate bathroom from those who are not ill.
  • Anyone who is sick should wear a surgical mask if near loved ones.
  • Have caregivers wear a mask if within 6 feet of the infected person (especially if the ill are not wearing one).
  • Keep a window open to help ventilate the home if weather permits.
  • Limit the number of people in the home.
  • Phone calls from well meaning loved ones are better than visiting during this time.

Tips for Home

Store a two-week supply of water and food. If you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters.

Samples of needed food supplies:

  • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, and soups
  • Protein or fruit bars/dried fruit
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Peanut butter or nuts
  • Crackers
  • Canned juices and bottled water
  • Canned or jarred baby food and formula
  • Pet food
  • Samples of vital medical/emergency supplies
  • Prescribed glucose or blood pressure monitoring equipment
  • Soap and water, or alcohol-based hand wash (at least 60% alcohol)
  • Anti-fever medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • A thermometer
  • Anti-diarrheal medications
  • Fluids with electrolytes, i.e. Pedialyte, Gatorade
  • Cleaning supplies and garbage bags
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Portable radio
  • Manual can opener
  • Tissues, toilet paper, diapers