‘Tis the Season…Flu Season That Is!
By Mark Dempsey
Ahh, the end of hot, steamy days of the summer of 2006 and the onset of cool, crisp fall nights; the vibrant colors of autumn denote not only a change of season, but the coming of holidays and family gatherings.
All is well…but wait. You’re getting an achy, feverish feeling. With the arrival of fall, another flu season also begins.
Flu, what is it exactly?
Influenza, or the “flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The flu spreads from an infected person by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms are usually felt one to four days after infection. You can spread the flu one day before your symptoms develop – before you even know you’re sick – and up to five days after becoming sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year in the United States, on average:
- Five to 20 percent of the population gets the flu
- More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications
- About 36,000 people die from the flu
Older people, young children and people with certain health risks are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
Common flu symptoms are fever, chills, muscle aches and pains, headache, extreme tiredness, sore throat, dry cough, sneezing and runny or stuffy nose.
Complications can appear when you start to feel better. If you get a bacterial infection while you have the flu, you could develop pneumonia. Pneumonia can also be caused by the flu virus itself. If you develop a high fever, shaking chills, chest pain with each breath and coughing that produces thick, yellowish-green-colored mucus, you should contact your health care provider immediately to get the appropriate treatment.
Flu season typically lasts from November through March. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated in October or November, but getting vaccinated in December can still be beneficial.
There are two types of vaccines:
- The "flu shot" – an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle. It is approved for use in people six months of age and older, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine (or LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”) – a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. LAIV is approved for use in healthy people five years to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.
Since we have to leave the house to work, grocery shop, take the kids to school and visit with friends, practicing good health habits will help reduce everyone’s chances of getting the flu. Cover your mouth when you cough or your nose when you sneeze and never touch someone else's used tissues. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water after coughing or sneezing. If you are sick, stay home from work or school. Also, be sure not to share straws, cups or silverware.
Other flu prevention tips given by the CDC are:
- Avoid close contact with sick people. Also, when sick, keep a safe distance from others.
- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth. Germs can spread when you touch something contaminated and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
For more information on the flu, visit www.cdc.gov/flu, or call CDC at 800-CDC-INFO.