This article is a simple overview of the influenza viruses often called the flu. I’ve also included links to articles that go into greater depth about flu related topics.
First, what is the flu? It’s a severe respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It’s important to note that the flu is caused by a virus. A common misperception is that flu can be treated with antibiotics. There is no need to go to ER with mild flu symptoms — there is nothing that can be offered to you. In most of the cases, flu does not require anti-viral drugs or any special treatment beyond rest at home.
However, certain people are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications, including young children, elderly persons, pregnant women and people with certain long-term medical conditions. For a full list of people at higher risk of flu-related complications, see People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications. If you are in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms, contact your doctor.
The symptoms of the flu:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle and body aches
- Fatigue, feeling of weakness
- Fever can occur, but not all people with the flu have a fever
- Vomiting, but this is more common in infant and children than adults
The flu season starts in the late Fall and peaks in January and February.
Your best prevention is a getting a yearly flu vaccine. Flu vaccines, like all vaccines, are not 100% effective and the level of protection varies from year to year depending on the flu strains of that year. At six months old, infants should begin getting seasonal flu vaccinations. Here is a very helpful map to locate where to find vaccines for the flu and many other illnesses.
There are two types of flu vaccines on the market: injection and FluMist. Both protect against four strains of flu. Many people prefer FluMist because they do not like needles. However, not everyone can use Flu Mist and it is important to ask your doctor if the FluMist is for you. Counter indications include a history of wheezing, allergies, and children currently using medicines with aspirin in them. More FluMist information.
Frequent hand washing is an important part of a flu prevention strategy. It is important to wash your hands with soap and lots of friction for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are very effective as well. To prevent the spread of the disease, do not come to work or school if you are ill. You can transmit the flu before you have symptoms. If you suspect that you are coming down with the flu and you have to be in contact with others, use a mask.
The flu is potentially deadly, especially for people in high-risk groups. Here are some of the warning signs that a person suffering from the flu is having a medical emergency and needs to be seen by a medical professional.
In infants and children:
- Fast breathing or labored breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Difficulty waking up or not interacting. Sluggish.
- Very irritable and the child does not want to be held
- Not drinking enough
- Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
- Flu-like symptoms improve, but return with fever and a worse cough
- Fever accompanied by a rash
- Difficulty breathing. Shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
In addition to the signs above, call 911 right away for any infant who has any of these signs:
- Cannot eat
- Difficulty breathing
- No tears when crying
In summary, the three actions steps to prevent flu are:
1) Get a flu vaccination every year
2) Wash your hands frequently during flu season
3) Stay away from people who are sick with the flu
Chris Schlesinger’s company In Home CPR teaches on-site safety classes at homes and businesses throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, serving Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, Sonoma, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Solano counties. He offers certifications through the American Heart Association and American Red Cross in CPR, BLS, AED, standard first aid and pediatric first aid. Visit his websites at CPR Certification San Francisco or CPR Class San Mateo.