As the temperatures begin to cool down and the aroma of the crisp autumn air fills our surroundings, we also need to prepare ourselves for the onset of upper respiratory conditions like influenza. Surprisingly, flu cases can emerge as early as August and persist as late as May of the following year, defying the conventional notion that the flu is solely a winter disease.
Influenza remains active and continues to pose a threat, regardless of the weather conditions. On average, about 8% of Americans get sick with flu each season. Read on to learn more about this pervasive virus that attacks our immune system.
What Is Influenza or Flu?
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses that typically, but not exclusively, spread during the fall and winter months. This virus leaves our bodies vulnerable to other infections such as sinus infections, strep throat, or pneumonia.
What Are Typical Flu Symptoms
The flu symptoms can range from mild to severe and even lead to fatal outcomes. The onset of flu symptoms is typically sudden, catching individuals off guard. Common flu symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
While vomiting and diarrhea can occur in some cases, these symptoms are more prevalent among children than adults.
With these symptoms being similar to those of other respiratory illnesses, it is challenging to diagnose flu based on symptoms alone. However, if your doctor needs confirmation of a flu diagnosis, there are tests available that provide definitive results.
Being aware of these symptoms can help identify and address the flu promptly.
How Flu Spreads
The flu is highly contagious and spreads primarily through tiny droplets released when infected individuals cough, sneeze, or even talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of those nearby, leading to transmission.
In some cases, flu can also be contracted by touching a surface or object contaminated with the virus and subsequently touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes.
How to Reduce Spreading Flu
Germs from coughs and sneezes can survive on hands and surfaces for up to 24 hours. That is the reason why proper hygiene becomes a great practice to reduce the risk of spreading the flu. To minimize transmission:
- Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Dispose of used tissues promptly.
If you have a high temperature or feel otherwise unwell, try to stay at home and avoid close contact with others.
How Long Can You Spread Flu
The flu can be transmitted to others even before individuals realize they are sick, continuing throughout the duration of their illness. However, the highest level of contagiousness occurs during the first 3-4 days after the onset of symptoms.
Vulnerable populations, such as young children and individuals with weakened immune systems, might remain contagious for an extended period.
Being aware of these timelines can help to prevent further transmission.
What Are the Available Treatments?
Flu antiviral drugs, distinct from antibiotics, specifically combat flu viruses and can help alleviate symptoms and shorten the duration of illness. While they are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine, antiviral drugs offer added protection and can reduce the risk of complications, such as respiratory infections and hospitalization.
Seeking early treatment with antiviral drugs can lead to a milder illness and potentially save lives, especially for hospitalized adults.
Some of the antiviral drugs CDC recommends for treating flu include:
- Baloxavir Marboxil
If you experience any of the flu symptoms, it is recommended that you consult your doctor promptly, especially if you are at an increased risk of severe flu complications.
Is There a Flu Vaccine?
The flu vaccine, available annually, is a crucial preventive measure against influenza. While the effectiveness of the vaccine may vary, it remains the best way to protect oneself from seasonal flu and its potentially severe complications.
CDC recommends that everyone aged 6 months and older receive a flu vaccine each year. Antiviral drugs, although useful in treating the flu, should not be seen as a substitute for vaccination.
Each year, there is a new vaccine because flu virus undergoes changes and mutations.
Groups at Higher Risk of Complications
Certain groups are at a higher risk of experiencing severe complications if they get the flu. These include:
- Young children, especially those under the age of 5
- Adults aged 65 and older.
- Pregnant women
- Individuals with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease
- Those with weakened immune systems
- Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
How to Prevent Flu
Preventing seasonal flu requires taking proactive measures. The foremost step is receiving a flu vaccine annually, as it significantly reduces the likelihood of flu-related illnesses and the risk of severe complications.
In addition to vaccination, CDC advises adopting everyday preventive actions, including:
- Avoiding close contact with sick individuals
- Covering coughs and sneezes
- Practicing frequent handwashing
By implementing these preventive measures, we can effectively curb the spread of respiratory infections, including the flu, and safeguard the health of ourselves and those around us.
If you are experiencing symptoms of seasonal flu, we invite you to visit Prestige Medical Group, especially if you are at an increased risk of severe complications. Our experienced team of doctors and healthcare providers can diagnose and treat seasonal flu and provide the support and guidance you need to manage symptoms effectively. Contact us today if you have any questions—we’re ready to help you!