Coughing, chills, body aches, oh my. Sounds like flu season.
There’s no way to guarantee you won’t get the flu, but there are things that can help reduce the possibility. Learning more about the flu, how to prevent it, and what to do if you get sick can increase your chances of staying healthy and recovering more quickly.
What Causes Flu?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object with the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes.
Signs and Symptoms of Flu
Flu symptoms usually come on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- fever or feeling feverish/chills (note: not everyone with flu will have a fever)
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches
- fatigue (tiredness)
- some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
It can be easy to mistake flu symptoms for common cold symptoms. To avoid this, look for the flu triad: muscle aches, feverish feelings, and cough. Coughing is also a tell-tale sign that you have the flu instead of a cold.
Ways to Prepare for Flu Season
Stock up on supplies so you are ready to go in case you get sick—for example, purchase tissues, hand sanitizer, hand soap, and disinfectant wipes. Don’t forget to look at your medicine cabinet, too, and replace anything that has expired. Make sure you’re cabinet is stocked with pain relievers, fever reducers, decongestants, cough syrup, and antihistamines. It might also be a good idea to test your thermometer and clean your humidifier if you have one. Remember about food and drinks! Healthy food and hydration are always important when sick, so stock up those pantries and refrigerators.
Tips for Preventing Flu
Take action to protect yourself and your family from the flu:
- Get a flu shot – The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. Everyone 6 months and older should get an annual flu vaccine, ideally by the end of October (but any time during flu season is okay). Flu vaccines help to reduce the burden of flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths. Vaccinating your whole family is one of the best ways to keep flu out of your home. Contact your primary care provider at CCP to schedule your flu vaccine appointment.
- Avoid close contact with sick people – If you’re less than three feet away from someone coughing or sneezing, there’s a pretty good chance you will get infected. If you are the one who is sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- Don’t touch your face – Touching your face with infected hands will quickly spread flu viruses onto you, so avoid touching your face without washing your hands first.
- Wash your hands – Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use warm water and antibacterial soap. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Disinfect your home – Disinfect items that get touched a lot can help stop the spread of viruses, like doorknobs, phones, and remote controls.
- Use hand sanitizer – Put bottles of hand sanitizer in your car, in your purse, and around your home so you can quickly and frequently clean your hands.
Tips for Staying Healthy
In addition to preventing the flu, take general steps toward staying healthy this flu season (and beyond):
- Get plenty of sleep – Not getting a good night’s sleep can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to catching illness. Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to keep your antibodies strong.
- Eat healthy – A well-balanced diet with fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein can help strengthen your immune system and boost your health.
- Exercise – Working out is a great way to help keep your immune system strong, but be sure not to overdo it. If you’re feeling under the weather, stick with moderate exercise or skip your workout entirely.
- Quit smoking – If you smoke, quit. Smoking can decrease your immune response and hinder your respiratory system.
- Stay hydrated – Proper hydration is essential for many body functions. Make a water bottle your new favorite accessory and drink throughout the day.
What To Do if You Get the Flu
If you get sick with the flu, taking care of yourself can help minimize any discomfort and help you recover quicker.
- Stay home – Staying home allows you to rest while also keeping you from spreading the flu virus to other people.
- Consider taking an antiviral drug – Antiviral drugs can help shorten your sick time and reduce your symptoms. Talk to your primary care provider about a prescription if you notice flu symptoms.
- Take pain relievers – Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help reduce your fever.
- Rest and more rest – Throw out your to-do list. You need to get all the rest possible to help your immune system fight off the virus.
- Drink lots of fluids – It’s easy to get dehydrated when sick, so drink plenty of fluids, including water, chicken soup, and hot tea. A drink with electrolytes is also a good idea if you have a high fever or are vomiting.
When to Visit Your Doctor
If your symptoms linger or worsen, or you’re concerned for other reasons, visit your primary care provider. When in doubt, it’s best to seek professional medical advice!
Experiencing the flu is never fun, but taking steps to prevent sickness and caring for your health can help stop the spread of flu viruses and improve your chances of staying healthy.