Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory infection caused by one of the influenza viruses.
- Each flu season is different and the viruses can affect people differently.
- The best way to prevent catching the flu is to get your flu vaccine every year.
The viruses that cause the flu can spread by coughing, sneezing or touching a contaminated surface or object. Others can “catch” the virus if they breathe in the infected droplets or touch an infected surface, and then touch their nose, mouth or eyes. The first symptoms of the flu usually begin one to seven days after contact with the virus. They include:
- Fever and chills
- General body aches
- Flushed face
- Nausea and vomiting
Most of these symptoms usually go away in a week or so. The cough and fatigue can last for weeks.
If you have flu symptoms, here are some things you can do at home:
- Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of fluids.
- Try running a cool mist humidifier to keep your mucus membranes moist and ease a dry cough.
- Over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be recommended to bring down a fever and reduce any pain or discomfort.
- Avoid cigarette smoke and other respiratory irritants.
Let your healthcare provider know if you, or somebody who lives with you, are at high risk for complications. He or she may prescribe antiviral medications early in the course of your illness.
There is a test to determine if you have the flu. The test is not usually needed unless your symptoms are unusual or your doctor needs the test results to decide on which medication to prescribe.
- Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. The overuse of antibiotics can result in bacteria becoming resistant to them. It can also expose you to unnecessary side effects.
- Your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic if you develop a secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia.
- In order to decrease the spread of any virus, avoid others who have cold or flu symptoms, stay home if you have cold or flu symptoms, cover your mouth when you cough, avoid touching your face and wash your hands frequently!
- If you have the flu and you work in an environment that includes other people, you should stay home until you are well.
Some important things to remember when treating a child's flu symptoms:
- Children and adolescents (eighteen years and under) should not receive aspirin products to treat flu symptoms. Aspirin products increase the risk of Reye's syndrome, a life threatening condition.
- You should not give decongestants to a child under the age of four.
- Over-the-counter cough and cold products have not been shown to be effective in young children.
- You should not give cough and cold products to a child unless directed by the child's healthcare provider.
- Always read and follow the instructions on the product label.
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Contact your healthcare provider if you are at high risk or have symptoms of the flu that are getting worse or not improving within seven to ten days. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms and how long you have had them.
- Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations).
- Make a list of your medications (including over-the-counter).
- Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about.
- If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).
Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider.
- What are some of the complications of the flu? Am I at high risk for complications?
- What treatment, if any, are you recommending? What options are available?
- If medication is recommended, how long will I need to take it? What are the possible side effects?
- How long will it take my symptoms to improve?
- What are my follow-up plans and what symptoms should I report if I am concerned that my symptoms may be getting worse?
- What tests are you recommending? What is the reason for those tests? Will the test results change my treatment plan?