What IS Influenza?
Before going into the details first you should know what is influenza? Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is an acute viral infection that attacks your respiratory system. There are three types of influenza viruses that commonly infect humans: type A, type B, and type C. Influenza A and B are spread from person to person through saliva and mucus, while influenza C can only be transmitted from mother to child during birth or breast-feeding (1). Although symptoms may seem relatively mild in some cases, influenza can lead to severe complications and even death if left untreated.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Influenza infection can cause both mild and severe illness. The most common symptoms of influenza are fever, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue. Influenza symptoms usually begin suddenly within a day of exposure to an infected person. The fever can be either low-grade (100 F) or high-grade (102 to 104 F). People who are most at risk for serious complications from flu are children younger than 5 years old; adults 65 years old or older; pregnant women; people with certain medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease; people whose immune systems have been weakened by medication or by cancer treatments; and people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
How do you treat the flu?
The best way to treat the flu is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Make sure you have a well-stocked medicine cabinet of over-the-counter drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot as well as a pneumonia shot if you’re at high risk for developing respiratory infections.
If you start feeling sick with body aches, fatigue and cold symptoms that then turn into muscle aches, fever and dry coughs, see your doctor right away. They can prescribe antiviral drugs that will shorten how long your symptoms last while also decreasing how likely you are to spread it to others.
Can you prevent getting the flu?
The best way to prevent getting sick with seasonal flu or an influenza virus infection is by getting a yearly flu vaccine. There are two types of vaccines that may be used: injectable vaccine (shot) and nasal spray. Flu vaccines can protect against three or four different flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during a given season.
Flu vaccination greatly reduces your risk of becoming severely ill if you do get sick. A health care provider should give you a flu vaccine each year, but if you don’t have a regular provider or can’t get to one, ask for it at your local pharmacy, health department clinic, workplace health clinic, school clinic—any place that offers vaccinations.
How do you prevent getting the flu if you have it already?
Prevention involves reducing your chances of coming into contact with someone who has it. The most effective way to do that is by avoiding sick people. That might sound drastic, but studies have shown that a person with a cold can easily infect another person—even if they don’t cough or sneeze! So staying away from those with flu-like symptoms can make a big difference.
It’s also important to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your eyes and nose, avoid sharing items like drinking glasses or eating utensils with others, avoid public transportation if you’re ill and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
These steps may seem simple, but they go a long way toward preventing infection. And if you’ve already been exposed to the virus? Don’t worry: There are treatments available that can help ease symptoms and shorten your illness. However, because there are so many strains of influenza viruses out there (and not all are covered by these medications), doctors often prescribe antiviral drugs based on their best guess as to which strain will be circulating in their area at any given time.
When should you seek help from a doctor?
If you experience fever, chills, sore throat or muscle aches with weakness or fatigue that lasts two days after other signs and symptoms begin. The virus that causes influenza is spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Influenza viruses can also be passed from one person to another if they are in very close contact.
To prevent infection: Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in the trash. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Additional tips on preventing sickness
While not everyone can escape sickness during cold and flu season, most of us can take steps to prevent getting sick. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer; avoid touching your face; cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; try to limit contact with people who are ill.
There’s no guarantee you won’t get sick if you follow these tips religiously—but if you follow them as best as possible, odds are that you won’t get as sick. Finally: rest up and drink plenty of fluids when your body tells you it needs them. (For more information on specific colds and flu symptoms—such as fever, chills, sore throat, vomiting etc.—check out WebMD).