Fall and winter are considered “flu season” as flu activity increases during this time. Learn tips for preventing the flu and what to do if you get sick.
What is the flu?
Influenza – commonly referred to as the flu – is a contagious viral infection that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes, the lungs. The flu may cause fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, body aches, fatigue, and tiredness.
Fall and winter are considered “flu season” as flu activity increases during this time. Most people who come down with the flu have mild illness, and do not need medical care. They will typically recover within two weeks. However, young children, people over the age of 65, pregnant women and people with certain medical conditions are at higher risk of developing serious complications such as pneumonia.
Get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months of age or older get a flu vaccine annually as the first step in preventing the flu. The best time to get vaccinated is before flu season begins in the Fall. But, getting the flu shot at any time during the season (usually until March) still offers protection.
Maintain proper hygiene. Everyday preventive practices, such as thorough hand-washing with soap and water and refraining from touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, can help stop the transmission of germs that cause the flu. Remember to cover your cough or sneeze, and afterward, clean your hands using alcohol-based wipes or hand sanitizer if soap and water are not readily available. Try to avoid contact with individuals with flu-like symptoms, and wipe down physical items that have been used by others before you use them.
Practice a healthy lifestyle. Developing a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the flu and help speed recovery from illness.
- Get on average 8 hours of sleep per night
- Eat foods that are part of a well-balanced, nutritious diet
- Stay hydrated
- Avoid smoking and inhaling second-hand smoke
- Exercise regularly (although consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program)
What to do if you get sick with the flu
Stay home and get rest. If you do get sick with flu symptoms, you should stay home (except to get medical care) and avoid contact with others who are not sick. This helps prevent the spread of the flu to other people, and reduced activity helps improve your recovery time.
Drink plenty of fluids. When you are sick, it is essential to supply your body with enough hydration. Water, fruit juices, vitamin water, and other clear fluids can help to avoid dehydration.
Use a cool mist humidifier. This can help with congestion, coughs, and breathing. Avoid using a warm mist humidifier which can increase the spread of bacteria and mold.
Are antiviral flu medications right for me? If you get the flu, antiviral medications may be a treatment option, especially if you have a high-risk health condition. They can help improve the recovery process by decreasing the severity and the duration of the illness. Your doctor will determine if they’re right for you and for maximum effectiveness, should be started within two days of the onset of flu symptoms.
If you have symptoms of flu and are in a high-risk group or you are worried about your illness, contact your physician or healthcare provider.
Luanne Carlson, DO is a primary care physician with UCR Health.