• Ronnie Shalev, MD

What is the Flu and how can I protect myself?

Flu Season is at its peak

Influenza or “the flu” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It can cause mild to severe illness, depending on the patient age and health status prior to the immediate illness. People who are sick with the flu often feel body aches, fever, chills, headaches, cough, sore throat, and generalized weakness. Some people even have vomiting and diarrhea.

Flu season can be anytime between October through May, but usually peaks December through February. There have been isolated cases of the flu in other months. 16 to 64 million people in the US get the flu each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 200 thousand of those people are hospitalized with complications from the flu and anywhere between 3 and 49 thousand deaths occur from complications of the flu.

Complications of the flu include bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, worsening chronic medical conditions, and death. The elderly, the young, and people with asthma, COPD, diabetes, liver disease, HIV, cancer, and chronic steroid use are at high risk for serious flu complications.

The flu is spread mainly by droplets made when people that are sick with the flu sneeze, cough, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people. Touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your own mouth, eyes, or nose can also spread the flu.

The Flu is spread by respiratory droplets

Patients are contagious one day before their symptoms start and are still contagious up to seven days after becoming sick. A person might be contagious before he or she even knows they are sick.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine each year. Practicing good hygiene habits can also help stop the spread of the flu. Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds. Clean and disinfect surfaces in your home, especially if someone is sick with the flu.

Try to avoid close contact with anyone who is sick with the flu. If you are sick with the flu, stay home so you don’t infect others. Cover your mouth when you cough. Don’t cough into your hand, only into your sleeve or elbow. Stay home if your are sick with the flu.

There is no cure for the flu. There are antiviral medications available, but these medications only help to decrease the duration and severity of symptoms. Many of them have unpleasant side effects that might develop and are quite expensive. Drink plenty of water and get lots of rest. You need to seek medical attention if you have trouble breathing, severe headaches, chest pain, abdominal pain, dizziness, or confusion.

For more information , please visit www.cdc.gov/flu