During a typical year, the flu season typically spans from fall to early spring, bringing along the familiar symptoms of sniffling, sneezing, coughing, fatigue, and other signs of the flu.
The severity of the illness can vary from person to person, but this year, with both the Flu Symptoms and COVID-19 viruses surging, it’s more crucial than ever to protect ourselves. While flu shots are always important, they hold even greater significance this year as they help safeguard the population, particularly vulnerable groups, from contracting the flu while COVID-19 remains a threat.
Distinguishing between a cold and the flu:
At first glance, the common cold and the flu may appear similar as both are respiratory illnesses with overlapping symptoms. However, they are caused by different viruses, and the symptoms can help differentiate between the two.
Common symptoms shared by both colds and the flu include:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- General fatigue
Typically, flu symptoms are more severe compared to those of a cold. Moreover, the flu can lead to more serious health complications such as:
- ear infections
If your symptoms are severe, it’s advisable to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential to follow the recommended protocols when seeking medical attention, whether in person or through online visits and to exercise caution when dealing with cold and flu symptoms due to their similarities with COVID-19 symptoms.
Treatment for a cold involves managing symptoms until the virus runs its course, including:
- using over-the-counter cold medications
- staying hydrated
- getting ample rest
For the flu, early administration of antiviral medication can reduce the severity and duration of the illness, alongside rest and hydration.
Similar to the common cold, the flu usually resolves with time as your body fights off the infection.
Distinguishing between the flu and COVID-19:
COVID-19, the flu, and allergies share some overlapping symptoms, but they also have distinct characteristics. The primary symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- shortness of breath
with sneezing being atypical.
Flu symptoms, on the other hand, include fever and body aches, with shortness of breath less commonly associated with it. Allergies typically present with more chronic symptoms like sneezing, coughing, and wheezing.
Common flu symptoms:
Here are some of the common symptoms of the flu:
- Fever: The flu often causes an elevated body temperature, commonly called a fever. Fever associated with the flu can range from a low-grade fever (around 100°F or 37.8°C) to a high fever (up to 104°F or 40°C).
- Cough: A dry, persistent cough is a common symptom of the flu and can worsen, leading to discomfort and even shortness of breath. Many flu-related coughs can persist for about two weeks.
- Muscle aches: Flu-related muscle pains are often concentrated in the neck, back, arms, and legs and can be severe, making simple movements challenging.
- Headache: Severe headaches can be an initial symptom of the flu, sometimes accompanied by light and sound sensitivity.
- Fatigue: Feeling tired is not an obvious symptom of the flu but is a common sign of the illness. This tiredness and overall feeling of unwellness can come on rapidly.
It’s important to recognize these symptoms to seek appropriate care and treatment.
Importance of the flu shot:
Influenza is a serious virus that causes numerous illnesses each year. Anyone, regardless of age or immune system strength, can fall seriously ill from the flu, and it can be fatal in some cases. Although most flu-related deaths occur in individuals aged 65 and older, it can also affect children and young adults.
The most effective way to prevent the flu and reduce its spread is by getting a flu vaccination. The flu vaccine is available in various forms:
- including injectable shots
- high-dose injectable shots (for those over 65)
- intradermal shots
- and nasal sprays
Widespread vaccination not only limits the spread of the flu but also contributes to herd immunity, protecting those unable to receive the vaccine for medical reasons.
Vaccination can also help lessen the illness’s severity if you contract the flu.
How the flu shot works:
The flu vaccine is formulated by selecting the most likely flu virus strains to be prevalent in the upcoming season. Millions of vaccine doses containing these strains are then produced and distributed.
Upon receiving the vaccine, your body begins to produce antibodies specifically targeting these flu virus strains, protecting against infection. If you come into contact with the flu virus later, you are less likely to contract it, and if you do, the symptoms are typically less severe.
Who should get the flu shot:
Doctors recommend that everyone aged 6 months and older receive the flu vaccine, with particular emphasis on high-risk groups, including:
- pregnant women
- young children
- individuals receiving aspirin therapy
- those aged 65 and older
- individuals with a body mass index of 40 or higher
- residents of nursing homes or chronic care facilities
- American Indians or Alaska Natives
- anyone with chronic medical conditions
It’s advisable to get the flu shot by the end of October to ensure sufficient time for your body to develop immunity before the peak of flu season.
Even if you miss the October deadline, getting the flu shot later is still beneficial, as it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop. Given the ongoing presence of both flu and COVID-19, vaccination is especially important this year.
Side effects of the flu shot:
Many people avoid the flu vaccine, fearing it might make them sick. However, it’s crucial to understand that the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. It contains inactivated flu virus strains that are not capable of causing illness. While some people may experience mild and short-lived side effects, such as
- soreness at the injection site
- low-grade fever
- mild aches and stiffness
these effects are usually short-lived and minor. Severe allergic reactions to the flu vaccine are extremely rare, and if you have a history of allergic reactions to vaccines or medications, it’s advisable to consult your doctor before getting vaccinated.
Duration of the flu:
Most people recover from the flu within about a week, but it may take several more days to regain your energy fully. It’s essential to stay home from work or school until you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medications. The flu is contagious, and you can transmit it to others even before symptoms appear and for up to 5-7 days afterward.
If you experience cold or flu symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s essential to isolate yourself, get tested, and follow good hygiene practices, including:
- disinfecting high-touch surfaces
- wearing a face covering
- avoiding contact with others
Treatment options for the flu:
In most cases, mild to moderate cases of the flu can be treated at home without prescription medications. It’s important to stay home and avoid contact with others when flu symptoms first appear. Recommended steps include:
- Drinking plenty of fluids, including water, soup, and low-sugar drinks.
- Treating symptoms like headache and fever with over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
- Practicing good hygiene by washing your hands regularly.
- Covering your coughs and sneezes with tissues and disposing of them immediately.
- Wearing a face covering in public spaces.
If your symptoms worsen or you are at high risk for flu-related complications, consult your doctor. Antiviral medications can be prescribed to reduce the severity and duration of the illness, but they are most effective when taken within 48 hours of symptom onset.
High-risk groups for flu-related complications include:
- individuals with weakened immune systems,
- pregnant women (up to 2 weeks postpartum),
- people aged 65 and older,
- children under 5 years old (especially those under 2),
- residents of chronic care facilities or nursing homes,
- individuals with chronic conditions like heart or lung disease,
- those of Native American or Alaska Native descent, and anyone with chronic medical conditions.
Flu season timeline:
In the United States, the primary flu season spans from October to March, with peak flu cases typically occurring between December and February. However, the flu can be contracted at any time of the year. It is more likely to occur during the fall and winter months when people spend more time indoors near others, increasing the risk of infection. Pre-existing viral infections can weaken the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to new infections.
Remedies for flu symptoms:
Experiencing the flu can be unpleasant, but various remedies can provide relief. Consider these treatments if you have the flu:
- Pain relievers: Analgesics like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are often recommended to alleviate symptoms such as muscle aches, headache, and fever.
- Decongestants: These medications help relieve nasal congestion and sinus pressure, with various forms available, including nasal decongestants and oral decongestants.
- Expectorants: These medications help loosen thick mucus in your chest and facilitate coughing.
- Cough suppressants: OTC cough medicines can help ease or suppress a persistent cough. Some cough drops contain honey and lemon to soothe a sore throat and reduce coughing. Avoid giving aspirin to children and teens due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Ensure you do not mix medications unnecessarily to prevent unwanted side effects. It’s best to take medicines that target your predominant symptoms. Rest is also crucial during recovery, as your body requires adequate rest to fight the infection. Additionally, staying hydrated with water, low-sugar sports drinks, and soup can help you recover more comfortably.
Flu symptoms in adults:
Flu-related fever in adults can be severe, often being the earliest and most prominent symptom of the flu. Adults rarely experience high fevers unless they have a significant infection, and the flu typically leads to abrupt high temperatures exceeding 100°F (37.8°C). Unlike the flu, other viral infections such as the common cold may cause low-grade fevers.
Adults may also experience various symptoms similar to those in children, but the severity and combination of symptoms can vary from person to person. Some individuals may experience certain symptoms more prominently than others.
The incubation period for the flu:
The typical incubation period for the flu ranges from 1 to 4 days. During this incubation period, the virus is present in your body and is developing, even though you may not exhibit any symptoms. It’s crucial to note that you can transmit the virus to others during this period, often before you become aware of being sick. The flu virus spreads through tiny droplets produced when sneezing, coughing, or talking, entering the body through the nose, mouth, or eyes. It can also be contracted by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and subsequently touching your face.
The “24-hour flu” is a common term for a stomach infection caused by norovirus and is unrelated to influenza (the flu). Norovirus symptoms include:
- stomach cramping
and can last up to three days. This is distinct from influenza, which is a respiratory illness with symptoms like
- runny nose
- body aches
and less commonly, nausea and vomiting in adults.
Is the flu contagious?
Yes, the flu is highly contagious. If you have the flu, you can transmit the virus to others, often starting a day before symptoms become apparent and continuing for 5 to 7 days after symptom onset. Young children can potentially spread the virus for more than seven days after symptoms first appear. Individuals with weakened immune systems may also experience prolonged shedding of the virus.
It’s essential to take precautions and isolate yourself if you have the flu to prevent the spread of the virus to others. If diagnosed with the flu, inform individuals you’ve been in contact with on the day before your symptoms appeared.
What is the flu?
The flu, or influenza, is a common infectious virus primarily spread through respiratory droplets that enter another person’s body. Each year, the flu circulates widely in the United States, affecting a significant portion of the population. The CDC estimated that between 3% to 11% of people in the U.S. experience flu symptoms annually.
While the flu season typically peaks in February, it can occur at any time of the year. Numerous flu virus strains exist, and healthcare experts identify the strains most likely to circulate each year, using this information to develop vaccines that protect against these strains.
Is there medication for the flu?
Antiviral drugs can be used to treat the flu, but they are available only by prescription and cannot be purchased over the counter. Antiviral medications can help alleviate symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness by one to two days. It’s important to note that these medications may have side effects, so it’s advisable to consult a doctor before taking them.
Research suggests that antiviral medications are most effective when taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. However, they can still provide some benefit when administered later, particularly for individuals at high risk of flu-related complications.
Natural flu remedies:
While there is no cure for the flu, various natural remedies may help ease symptoms and promote recovery. For example, for a sore throat or cough, consider remedies such as:
- warm tea
- warm soup
Rest is also essential as your body fights the virus, so taking time to recuperate is crucial.
Over-the-counter (OTC) flu medicine options:
OTC medications can help alleviate flu symptoms, although they do not treat the underlying virus. These medicines include:
- Decongestants: Nasal decongestants help break up mucus in the sinuses and facilitate nasal discharge. They are available in nasal spray or pill form.
- Cough suppressants: OTC cough medicines can help suppress the cough reflex, particularly at night when coughing may be more bothersome. Cough drops or lozenges containing honey and lemon can soothe a sore throat and reduce coughing.
- Expectorants: These medications help loosen thick mucus, making it easier to cough up.
It’s essential to avoid mixing medications unnecessarily to prevent unwanted side effects. Choose medicines that address your predominant symptoms.
Flu transmission and prevention:
The flu spreads through several means, including respiratory droplets expelled when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks. The virus can also survive on surfaces for 2 to 8 hours, allowing transmission when a person touches a contaminated surface and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes.
Getting an annual flu vaccine is one of the most effective ways to prevent the flu. The vaccine stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies specific to the flu virus strains expected to circulate in a given season, protecting against infection.
While the vaccine may not offer complete immunity, it can reduce the severity of symptoms if you do contract the flu. Additionally, it contributes to herd immunity, helping protect individuals who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical reasons.
Flu vaccination recommendations:
Doctors recommend flu vaccination for individuals over 6 months, particularly those at higher risk of flu-related complications. High-risk groups include:
- Pregnant women
- Children under age 5
- Individuals aged 18 and under who receive aspirin therapy
- People over age 65
- Individuals with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher
- Anyone residing in or working at a nursing home or chronic care facility
- Caregivers for any of the above
- American Indians or Alaska Natives
- Individuals with chronic medical conditions
Most individuals should receive their flu vaccine by the end of October, allowing time for the development of protective antibodies before the flu season peaks. However, getting vaccinated later in the season is still beneficial, as it can offer protection even during ongoing flu activity. It typically takes about 2 weeks for antibodies to develop after receiving the vaccine.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasized the importance of flu vaccination, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when both viruses may circulate simultaneously. Vaccination can help reduce the burden on healthcare systems and lessen the severity of the illness if an individual contracts the flu.
Flu shot for children:
Children are at higher risk of severe flu-related complications, making flu vaccination crucial for their protection. Doctors recommend flu vaccines for children starting at 6 months of age. Some children between 6 months and 8 years may require two doses for effective protection. If a child is receiving the vaccine for the first time, they may need two doses. If they received only one dose during the previous flu season, they may require two doses in the current season. Consult your child’s doctor for specific guidance on the number of doses needed.
Children under 6 months of age cannot receive the flu vaccine, so those around them need to get vaccinated to provide indirect protection. This includes family members and caregivershttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_flu