We’ve all heard of the flu, but sometimes it’s hard to keep the facts straight. While the flu is one of the most dangerous viruses out there, not many of us know much about it, or even how to diagnose it.
To help you stay well this flu season, we’ve provided you with a list of questions and answers to help you stay informed and healthier this flu season.
How common is the flu?
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released estimates for the last flu season and almost 10% of Americans suffered from a mild or severe flu. Similar numbers are expected this season.
- There were 37.4 million – 42.9 million flu illnesses
- Doctors had 17.3 million – 20.1 million flu medical visits
- Hospitals admitted 531,000 – 647,000 flu victims
- 36,400 – 61,200 people died from the flu
What’s the difference between a cold and a flu?
Even though the flu is common, it is often misdiagnosed as a cold. Sometimes the symptoms can be similar. The Center for Disease Control offers these guidelines.
How long can you carry the flu virus before you show symptoms?
You can carry the flu virus for one to two days before you begin to feel the onset of sickness. You are infectious during this time.
Do flu shots really work?
The CDC researches the results of flu shots and vaccines each year to determine effectiveness. While the numbers vary from year to year, depending on the strains present and other conditions, over time studies show that flu vaccinations reduce the risk of flu illness between 40% and 60% during the flu season. It’s smart to get the flu shot at the beginning of the season to help protect you throughout flu season.
Who is most in danger of dying from the flu?
While the flu is a moderate health danger for anyone suffering from it, the very young, the very old, and anyone with a compromised immune system are at special risk for complications from the flu, even death. People in high-risk categories should get flu shots and take special care to stay away from infected populations. High-risk groups include pregnant women, women who are up to two weeks postpartum, children under the age of five (and especially those under the age of 2), 65+, and people with other serious health issues such as diabetes, kidney or liver disorders, cancer, chronic lung disease, a history of heart issues, or weakened immune systems.
If you’re in a high-risk group and you suspect you have the flu, see a doctor immediately to reduce the chances of serious complications.
How does the flu spread and how can I avoid it?
The flu is a virus which means it can be spread in the air. Most experts agree that the flu viruses travel on tiny droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or even talk. Less frequently, the flu is spread when a person touches their eyes, nose, or mouth after touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it. Many people can carry the virus for a day or two before realizing they have the flu, which means they can unknowingly infect many others.
To avoid the flu, stay away from crowds or crowded areas. Wash your hands often, and never touch your eyes, ears, or mouth without thoroughly washing your hands first. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of dark, leafy greens and vitamin C will also help boost your immune system. Staying rested is also good for the immune system and may help you fight off flu viruses.
If you must cough or sneeze, turn away from people and cough or sneeze into a bent elbow. This will minimize airborne viruses.
How long does the flu last?
The length and severity of your flu will vary based on many factors including the strain of flu, your health, your age, and even how stressed you are. For most people, the flu lasts one to two weeks, with two to three days of severe symptoms, and a lingering weakness and exhaustion lasting another week or so.
When should I see a doctor for the flu?
While the flu can be uncomfortable, for most people it’s a short-term illness. However, for some, it can be serious, or symptoms may indicate additional illnesses. The team at WebMD suggests you see a doctor if any of the following occurs:
- If you have trouble breathing or experience chest pain. It could be a sign of serious complications.
- If your fever doesn’t go away after two or three days or exceeds 103 degrees Fahrenheit.
- If the flu doesn’t go away after one or two weeks, or if it goes away and returns.
- If you can’t keep anything down you could become seriously dehydrated which can slow your healing. Chronic vomiting could also be a symptom of more serious complications.
- If you experience significant discomfort when you swallow. While mild irritation is normal, severe pain may be a symptom of other issues.
- If you can’t get rid of your cough or your cough worsens or becomes painful.
- If your congestion headache won’t go away.
- If you’re in a group considered at high risk, including pregnant women, women who are up to two weeks postpartum, children under the age of five (and especially those under the age of 2), 65+, and people with other serious health issues such as diabetes, kidney or liver disorders, cancer, chronic lung disease, a history of heart issues, or weakened immune systems.
What’s the best treatment for the flu?
Assuming you are not in a high-risk category, the best treatment is lots of rest, plenty of fluids, and a bland diet that won’t upset your stomach. While some over-the-counter medications might help you treat some symptoms, check with your doctor if severe symptoms persist more than a few days, or if you feel you are not fully recovering.
If your fever exceeds 103 degrees Fahrenheit or if any symptoms worsen noticeably or dramatically, see a doctor immediately.
For more not-so-fun flu facts check out our blog: Not-So-Fun Flu Facts.