The flu is a form of a severe, feverish cold so if you are generally healthy, you do not need to see a doctor. The virus is shed in your body for about 5 days after your symptoms first start. Babies, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, COPD, or cancer are who we generally worry about. The flu can often worsen your chronic diseases. If you can't keep fluids down, can't keep your fever down, become extremely tired, become confused, have difficulty breathing, or pass out, you need to see your doctor. The flu can most commonly cause you to become dehydrated and can sometimes turn into pneumonia. Generally, if you don't feel better after a week, call your doctor.
Other common complications of the flu include ear infection, sinus infection, croup, bronchitis, apnea (stop breathing) in babies, kidney failure, COPD/asthma attack, swelling of the brain, and death.
The best way to protect yourself from influenza (flu) is primary prevention. This includes vaccination for everyone above 6 months of age. This excludes individuals with a severe egg allergy or Guillain-Barre syndrome. While hand washing does not prevent the flu, it can decrease your chances of contracting it. This includes washing the hands with soap and water, or using alcohol-based hand rubs. The flu is HIGHLY contagious.
Symptoms of the flu includes fever, chills, sweats, body aches, fatigue, headache, sore throat, cough, nasal congestion, decreased appetite, and runny nose.
Taking care of someone infected with the flu
When someone is infected with the flu, the best methods of providing care for them is washing hands frequently and after every contact with the person. The flu is spread by droplets in the air. These droplets can extend about 3 ft. So if you are within 3ft of the infected person, make sure you are wearing a mask. If the person coughs on surrounding objects such as a desktop, the flu virus can contracted by touching the droplets. Make sure you are cleaning surfaces and door knobs with disinfectants known to kill viruses such as Lysol. Also tell the infected person to cover their cough. The best method is coughing into your elbow-not your hands. Since the flu is a virus, you treat the symptoms that it causes. This includes Tylenol or Ibuprofen for body aches and fever, increased fluids to prevention dehydration caused by the sweating, coughing, and fever, and plenty of rest. If Tamiflu is prescribed, take it as prescribed. Keep in mind that Tamiflu is only needed if diagnosed within 2 days of symptoms AND if you are at risk for complications related to the flu. You may also use saline nasal spray and a cool-mist humidifier to help with congestion.
Keep in mind that the effectiveness of the flu vaccination depends on prediction of resistant patterns each year.
During some flu seasons, the vaccinate may not be as effective as it should be. Although some believe that the flu vaccine causes the flu, this is a myth. It takes the vaccine about two weeks to activate in your body. So if you contract the flu after vaccination, you were probably already infected. With this time frame in mind, it is great to vaccinate early so that you will be covered when the flu season starts. Flu season is October-May. General advice would be making sure your immune system is strong by eating healthy, exercising, getting adequate sleep, and taking in a good amount of vitamin C.
Jennifer Pugh, MSN, APRN, FNP-C
Family Nurse Practitioner