Each year 5% to 20% of U.S. residents will get the flu (influenza). This article outlines common flu symptoms, treatment, as well as what you can do to prevent catching or spreading the infection.
How does one get the flu?
The influenza virus is typically transmitted from person to person by inhaling a respiratory droplet from an infected person’s cough or sneeze.
The average incubation period for the influenza virus is 2 days (1-4 day range)
What are flu symptoms?
Influenza shares signs and symptoms with many common respiratory infections. What distinguishes the flu from other respiratory viruses is the abrupt onset of symptoms (within hours) as well as the severity of symptoms. These symptoms may include:
Fever (usually high)
Sore throat, runny nose, and nasal congestion may be present, though are more commonly associated with the cold.
Duration of Symptoms: Fever and muscle aches generally improve within 3-5 days, though lingering cough and fatigue can last up to a few weeks.
Complications from the flu are more likely in certain groups of people including people 65 and older, young children, pregnant women, and persons with certain chronic medical conditions.
How Do I Know If I Have The Flu?
Healthcare providers may diagnose influenza on clinical grounds or may use one of the rapid flu tests that are now available.
Notify your healthcare provider as soon as possible about your symptoms – many clinics will provide a mask or have a separate waiting area for patients with flu symptoms.
Antiviral medications (oseltamivir, zanamivir) can decrease the severity and duration of the illness if started within 1-2 days after onset of symptoms.
Hydration- High fever increases the daily fluid requirement by about 10% for each degree of fever. If the average adult requires 1.5 – 2 liters of fluid/day from food and drink, this should be increased about 150 ml of fluid for each degree of fever above normal.
Anti-Inflammatory Medications – can reduce the fever and muscle aches associated with the flu. These medications include Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, and Aspirin. Aspirin use should be avoided in children and teenagers.
Cough Medications - Over–the-Counter or Prescription
How Can I Prevent Getting the Flu?
Annual flu shots are the most effective way to keep from getting the flu. Influenza vaccines can be expected to reduce laboratory-confirmed influenza by approximately 70% to 90% in healthy adults <65 years of age. Protective antibodies typically appear two weeks after receiving the flu vaccine.
Antiviral drugs can be used as a second line of defense to treat the flu or to prevent infection when household members or close contacts have been diagnosed with the flu. When taken as prophylaxis, these medications should be started as soon as possible and continued until there is no longer influenza activity in the area.
How do I keep from spreading the flu?
Adults can be contagious to others starting the day before symptoms begin through ~ 5 days after illness onset. Viral shedding peaks at 24 to 48 hours of illness and then rapidly declines over the next 5 days, though longer periods of viral shedding can occur in children and immunocompromised persons.
The flu virus is typically transmitted by airborne respiratory droplets, so cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze—throw the tissue away after you use it.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. If you are not near water, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
Stay home until symptoms resolve to avoid spreading the flu to patients and colleagues.