The influenza virus — also known as the flu — affects thousands of people each year. The following information will help you understand how the flu is transmitted and what you can do to keep you and your family healthy this flu season.
The flu virus
- Different strains of flu the virus occur each year, and more than one strain can spread in any year. Each year the flu vaccine is formulated to protect against the three viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming flu season.
- The flu virus spreads through tiny droplets that get into your mouth or nose. You can catch the flu from someone who has the virus, usually when they cough, sneeze, or talk. The virus can also be transmitted when you touch germs and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, headache, and fatigue. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a cold and the flu because the symptoms of each are similar. But a cold is caused by a different virus than the flu. Flu symptoms are generally more severe than those of a cold, and the flu usually causes a fever.
- Flu season begins in the fall and usually peaks in January or February. Because the virus is different each year, flu season can begin in October and last as late as May.
- The flu virus can cause complications such as bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, and dehydration, especially in people with weakened immune systems.
- The flu can last as long as a week — sometimes two. Most people recover from the flu in a few days without medical treatment. It's usually best to stay home for at least twenty-four hours after your fever subsides to keep from spreading the virus to others.
The flu vaccine
The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu. However, some people are concerned about getting a flu vaccine. The following information will help you understand how the flu vaccine works:
- You'll need a new vaccine each year. Every flu season is different, and every year the vaccine is reformulated to protect against the most common viruses.
- Once you get the vaccine, you will be protected from the flu in about two weeks. The vaccine encourages your body build antibodies to the flu virus. These antibodies will protect you from the flu for the rest of the flu season.
- The flu vaccine does not cause the flu. The viruses in the flu shot are dead and they cannot cause an infection.
- Side effects of the vaccine include soreness and swelling where the shot was given. You may also experience a low-grade fever or body aches. These symptoms can last a day or two.
- Certain people should not be vaccinated, including those who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, those who have had a reaction to the vaccine in the past, and those with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Also, children under six months of age should not be vaccinated.
- The vaccine is usually available in September. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting the vaccine as soon as it becomes available. However, flu season generally peaks in January or February, so getting the vaccine as late as December will offer protection.
- A nasal-spray vaccine is also available for children and adults. The nasal-spray vaccine is made with live, weakened flu viruses and given in a spray. Because the viruses are weakened, they will not cause the flu.
- Certain people should be especially vigilant about getting the flu vaccine early. This includes people who could develop serious complications if they get sick with the flu, such as
- people with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, or a heart condition
- pregnant women
- people age sixty-five and older
- people who have HIV or AIDS
- people who have cancer
- children younger than five
People who work with high-risk patients, including those who work in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, should get vaccinated early on.
The annual flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. Here are other ways you can stay healthy during flu season:
- Wash your hands with soap and water regularly. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. This is how germs can spread.
Try to stay away from people who have the flu. If you can, avoid crowded areas. An infected person can spread the flu from up to six feet away.
- Don't share food or utensils.
- Keep yourself healthy by getting plenty of sleep, drinking plenty of fluids, exercising, and eating healthy foods.
Taking time off from work
If you get the flu, it's best to stay home, rest, and recuperate. Most employers prefer employees stay home when they have the flu rather than expose others to the virus. The following tips can help:
- Know your company's policy on sick days. You may be required to have note from your health care provider.
- See your health care provider as soon as possible. Flu treatments may be available.
- Let your supervisor or manager know you have the flu as soon as possible. That way, your supervisor will have time to cover your work.
- Don't abuse your company's sick leave policy.
- Get plenty of rest. Use your time off work to rest and get better.