Fall is here, and flu season is arriving with it. While fall may be a favorite time of year for many people, flu season is not.
The flu (seasonal influenza) is caused by viruses which infect the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs). The virus travels on tiny respiratory droplets caused by coughing or sneezing. A person can also contract the influenza virus by touching a contaminated object and then touching his or her mouth, nose, or eyes. A flu patient is contagious from one day before symptoms appear until up to seven days after getting sick. That means you can infect other people even before knowing you are sick.
Flu symptoms usually come on quickly. Symptoms include a high fever, dry cough, sore throat, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, and runny or stuffy nose. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. Most people recover from the flu in as soon as a few days to less than two weeks; however, some people develop complications, such as pneumonia, which can be life threatening.
Flu season can be unpredictable. Outbreaks happen every year, but the severity, timing, and length of the flu season can vary dramatically from year to year. Influenza viruses continually change, so it is not unusual for new strains to appear every year. Trying to predict the flu season is also difficult. Typically flu activity peaks in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue into May.
Here are some ways to help prevent spreading or getting the flu:
- Wash your hands often, especially after coughing, sneezing, and wiping or blowing your nose.
- Use paper tissues when wiping or blowing your nose and throw them away after use.
- Cough into a tissue or the inside of your elbow instead of into your bare hand.
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes as germs enter the body through these openings.
- Stay home is you have flu symptoms until you are fever-free without fever medicine for 24 hours.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay away from crowds, if possible.
- Get a flu shot.
The best protection is a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. The vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research has indicated will be the most common during the upcoming flu season. The vaccine is not a guarantee that you will not become infected, especially if the strain of flu is not in the vaccine. However, it greatly reduces the risk.
Those at high risk for developing flu related complications are strongly encouraged to get a flu shot. This group includes children younger than 5, adults 65 years of age and older, pregnant women, and anyone with preexisting medical conditions. It generally takes about 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect.
Flu shots are available at Patient First through our Fast Track Flu Program. You can walk in, without an appointment, and receive your flu shot with little or no wait time. If Patient First participates with your insurer, you pay no co-pay for flu shots. The cost for self-pay flu shots is $28. The Fast Track flu shots are available from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., every day, and are for patients who are not allergic to eggs, who do not wish to see a physician, and who are at least 4 years old.
The key to fighting the flu lies in taking these proactive steps now. Do not wait until you or someone in your family starts feeling sick. Once you feel that first muscle ache and stuffy nose, it’s too late. Take charge of your health and make this a happier holiday season.