What Is the Flu?
Influenza, also known as the flu, is a highly contagious viral respiratory tract infection. It is estimated that each year, the flu affects 10-20% of the United States population.
When Is Flu Season?
Flu season typically peaks in January and February, even dragging into March. But it takes two weeks from the time you receive your vaccination for your body to develop antibodies, which fight off flu viruses that come into your system. That means you should plan on getting a flu shot as early as September and no later than October.
Protecting Yourself From the Flu
A yearly seasonal flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against seasonal flu. Crozer-Keystone Health System offers the following additional resources to help you protect yourself and your family from influenza.
- Flu Guide for Parents
- Flu Guide for People with Certain Medical Conditions
- How to Protect Yourself from the Flu
Flu Shot Side Effects
The flu vaccine is safe. Vaccine safety is closely watched by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and hundreds of millions of flu vaccines have been safely given across the country for decades.
The flu vaccine can't give you the flu. The most common side effects from a flu shot are soreness where the shot was given and maybe a slight fever or achiness. The nasal spray flu vaccine might cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat or a cough. These side effects are mild and don't last long.
Symptoms of the Flu
The following are the most common symptoms of the flu:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Severe aches and pains
- Fatigue or feeling very tired
- Sometimes a sore throat
How Long Does the Flu Last?
Most people who get the flu feel better within one or two weeks, however, some have a much more serious illness and may need to be hospitalized. You may still be contagious even after your symptoms have subsided.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol®. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.
How to Treat the Flu
Your doctor may choose to treat you with an antiviral medication. The antiviral medication may reduce the duration of the flu and decrease the incidence of potential complications. The medication is most effective when given within two days of developing the flu. As the flu is usually self-limited (will resolve without medication in 5-7 days), not everyone chooses to use the medication.
Home Treatment of the Flu
Stay home if you have the flu until your symptoms have mostly resolved. Avoid spreading the virus to others.
- Create a “sick room” in your house to limit the spread of the virus to others in your family.
- Rest and drink lots of fluids.
- Hot tea and soup can ease your sore throat.
- For fever, sponge your body with lukewarm water - not cold water or ice.
- To help with a stuffy nose, breathing in warm mist from a shower or sink filled with hot water is helpful.
- Use cough drops or lozenges to help with a cough and sore throat.
- Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke.
- If you are on prescription medicines or have a chronic medical condition, please consult your doctor prior to using the over the counter preparations below. Try to target the symptoms that are bothering you rather than using a multi-symptom over the counter preparation, as they often contain antihistamines and alcohol, which are not helpful for the flu.
- Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen can be used for fever and body aches. Do not use aspirin for anyone under age 20.
- Decongestants or nasal sprays can be used as directed for nasal congestion.
- For thick secretions, guaifenesin can be helpful.
- For a dry cough, dextromethorphan can be helpful.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
If you are concerned that you may have the flu, you can contact your doctor to discuss potential treatment options. Your doctor is always available to answer your questions or to see you in the office if needed. Those listed below are at increased risk from influenza or its complications and should contact their doctor if they believe they have the flu:
If you have chronic medical conditions such as Diabetes, Asthma, Emphysema (COPD), Coronary Artery Disease, End Stage Kidney Disease, or are receiving treatment for cancer or are on immunosuppressive medications.
- If you are in the above groups and you have had significant exposure to someone you know has the flu.
- If you are age 65 or older.
- If your child is younger than five.
- If you are pregnant.
- If you are obese.
The following symptoms should prompt you to call your doctor:
- If your symptoms improve and then get worse.
- If your cough lingers and becomes productive.
- If you experience shortness of breath.
- If you experience dizziness or light headedness.
Difference Between Cold and Flu
A cold and the flu (influenza) are two different illnesses. A cold is relatively harmless and usually clears up by itself after a period of time, although sometimes it may lead to a secondary infection, such as an ear infection. However, the flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia and even death. What may seem like a cold, could, in fact, be the flu. Be aware of these differences:
- Low or no fever
- Sometimes a headache
- Stuffy, runny nose
- Mild, hacking cough
- Slight aches and pains
- Mild fatigue
- Sore throat
- Normal energy level or may feel sluggish
- High fever
- A headache very common
- Clear nose
- Sometimes sneezing
- Cough, often becoming severe
- Often severe aches and pains
- Several weeks of fatigue
- Sometimes a sore throat
- Extreme exhaustion
Flu Guide for Parents
Get the answers to frequently asked questions that parents may have regarding the flu. Always check with your physician regarding your children's symptoms and follow up treatment.
Flu Guide for People with Certain Medical Conditions
People with certain health conditions may face special medical challenges during flu season.