Flu is a respiratory sickness characterized by body aches, fever, chills, coughing, stuffy nose, and fatigue. In most cases, the flu goes away without any treatment.
However, flu can be severe or even deadly to some people, including the elderly, young kids, expectant mothers, and those with underlying conditions such as diabetes or HIV/AIDS. It accounts for between 12,000 and 79,000 deaths in the US each year. Although common, the flu is not something to take lightly.
The surest thing about flu season is that it’s coming; so, are you prepared for it?
Flu Causes, Spread, and Symptoms
The influenza virus causes flu. The virus mainly attacks the respiratory system, which includes the lungs, nose, and throat. Flu may lead to other complications such as pneumonia, sinuses, and ear infections.
While flu symptoms are fairly consistent, different demographics may suffer differently. For example, vomiting and diarrhea are more common among children with flu than adults.
Flu symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Body aches
Flu is a very contagious illness that can spread before a sick person shows any symptoms.
Flu is frequently spread by inhaling droplets from the infected person. Touching your face with your hands after coming into contact with a contaminated surface or person could also spread the flu.
If you’re sick or worried that you may be sick with the flu, you need to avoid getting too close to other people. Stay home if at all possible. If you must go out, try to maintain 6ft of distance between yourself and others.
Always use a tissue paper to cover your nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing and dispose of the tissue immediately after use. Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds, and clean shared surfaces regularly with a disinfectant or antibacterial soap.
Treating the Flu
Most people don’t need any medication for the flu. However, sometimes your Urgent Care Clinician may recommend antiviral medication to manage the symptoms or recommend medicines that help control fever or pain.
Due to the dehydration risk when you have influenza, particularly if you have diarrhea or vomiting, you should increase fluid intake.
Now that you know how the flu is spread, you can tell how to prevent it. If there’s a sick person near you, ensure a safe distance between the two of you to avoid contact with the droplets, especially when they cough or sneeze. Use soap to clean surfaces and shared things to kill the virus. These measures could protect you from contracting the virus.
Vaccination is another effective flu prevention method. The vaccine can be administered to children who are six months or older. Vulnerable people such as patients 65 years and above, people with underlying conditions such as cancer, and pregnant mothers should speak to a Clinician first to see if the flu vaccine is suitable for them.
How to Prepare for Flu Season
There’s no fool-proof way of guaranteeing that you won’t get the virus, but there are certain things that you can do to reduce the risk of getting the flu. Before flu season starts, prepare yourself using some of these tips:
- Flu Vaccination
According to the CDC, anyone aged six months and older should get a flu vaccination annually. If you or any family member is at a higher risk of flu complications, they should not skip this important vaccine.
However, it’s important to note that the strains in the vaccine aren’t always the ones in circulation. Therefore, there is no 100% guarantee that you won’t get the virus after vaccination, so stock up on medicine and supplies even if you get the vaccine. Although the vaccine is available as early as October, you can get it any day during the flu season.
- Stock Your Medicine Cabinet
While you can’t get medicine to stop the flu virus once you’re infected, you have several options for controlling the virus’s symptoms. Before flu season hits, stock up on your family’s favorite remedies, such as cough syrups, decongestants, lozenges, nasal sprays, and medicated hot drinks like Neo-Citran.
Keep a fever reducer like Ibuprofen handy, but check the dosage before administering it. If you have young kids, make sure to keep children’s Ibuprofen on hand as well.
Avoid mixing medicines, like taking a fever reducer and a cough syrup at the same time, as this can lead to dangerously high levels of medication.
If more than one caregiver will be taking care of a sick child, keep a written record of what medications you administer, and when. Keeping notes can prevent an accidental overdose, and if your child needs to go to a doctor, it provides medical staff with recent medication history.
- Stock Up On Other Supplies
Ensure you have all the tools and supplies you’ll need to make it through flu season before it starts.
If your home tends to be dry, a humidifier can make the air less dry – helpful for those who suffer from coughs or dry noses. Make sure you have a working thermometer. Digital ones are superior but do need their batteries changed regularly, so make sure yours is working before you need it.
You’ll need facial tissues, soap, hand sanitizer, and cleaning supplies like disinfectant wipes, antibacterial cleaning solution, or bleach, in case someone in your family gets sick.
Don’t forget distractions, too: a sick child can’t share a tablet with siblings, so have things like coloring books, movies, and reading material to keep a little one occupied.
- Get Enough Drinks and Comfort Foods
You’ll need to remain healthy even when you catch the flu. It’s essential to ensure that your kitchen is loaded with everything that you may need, like honey, lemon juice (great for teas!), fresh fruits loaded with Vitamin C and antioxidants, popsicles for sore throats, and of course, the old standby – chicken soup.
Staying hydrated is important, so keep lots of filtered water and natural fruit juices (not the ones loaded with sugar) on hand. A wide selection of herbal teas is also a great idea for flu season – try green tea, ginger or mint tea for upset stomachs, elderberry for congestion, and camomile to help with sleep. Caffeine-free herbal teas also help keep you hydrated, as well as gently easing some flu symptoms. Even if you’re a die-hard coffee addict, keep a few herbal tea packets around, just in case.
- Don’t Touch Your Face
Like many other viruses, Influenza gains entry into your body through mucous membranes like the eyes, nose, and mouth.
You can avoid the flu by keeping your hands off your face as much as possible. If you need to touch your face, wash your hands first. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer.
If you think you may be sick, wash your hands after touching your face, too. You may leave traces of the virus on things you touch after touching your face, so keeping your hands clean will protect others.
- Encourage Hand Washing in Your Home
Handwashing is one of the most effective ways of controlling the spread of the flu and other viruses.
Encourage everyone at home to keep their hands virus-free by using soap and scrubbing their hands for at least 20 seconds before rinsing, and paying special attention to fingertips and under fingernails.
Wash your hands too to encourage your children to do it, or invent songs and games to make hand washing more fun for children.
- Switch to Disposable Items
Reducing the sharing of things can be an effective flu prevention tactic, especially if someone in your home is sick.
You can discourage people from sharing things by switching to disposable goods, such as using disposable cups for an ill person or giving them disposable cutlery to prevent the person washing dishes from getting sick.
In the bathroom, the sick person’s toothbrush should be kept separate, and you can replace hand towels with paper towels for the duration of the illness.
When to Get Urgent Care for a Flu
In most cases, a healthy adult can handle a flu at home. However, this isn’t always the case.
Get to your nearest Urgent Care Center or Emergency Room if you experience any of the following symptoms:
If you’re unsure whether you or a family member has the flu, a cold, COVID, or something else, it’s always best to be sure. A virtual visit is a great way to discuss your symptoms with a healthcare provider without leaving your home, and they can let you know what to do or advise you to seek further testing or treatment.