Influenza Symptoms, Protection, and What to do if You Get Sick
Influenza (commonly called the "flu") is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The information below describes common flu symptoms, how to protect yourself and those close to you from getting the flu, and what to do if you get sick with flu-like symptoms.
People May Have Different Reactions to the Flu
The flu can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death. Although most healthy people recover from the flu without complications, some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious complications from the flu.
Be Aware of Common Flu Symptoms
Influenza usually starts suddenly and may include the following symptoms:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Tiredness (can be extreme)
- Diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults)
- Sore Throat
Having these symptoms does not always mean that you have the flu. Many different illnesses, including the common cold, can have similar symptoms.
Know the Risks From the Flu
In some people, the flu can cause serious complications, including bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children and adults may develop sinus problems and ear infections.
Know How the Flu Spreads
The flu usually spreads from person to person in respiratory droplets when people who are infected cough or sneeze. People occasionally may become infected by touching something with influenza virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. Healthy adults may be able to infect others 1 day before getting symptoms and up to 5 days after getting sick. Therefore, it is possible to give someone the flu before you know you are sick as well as while you are sick.
Protection Against the Flu
The single best way to protect yourself and others against influenza is to get a flu vaccination each year.Two kinds of flu vaccine are available in the United States:
- The "flu shot" an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine - a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for "live attenuated influenza vaccine"). LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 5 years to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but you can still get vaccinated in December and later. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as springtime.
Prevent the Spread of Flu
These healthy habits will help keep you and others from getting and passing on the virus:
- Clean your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and clean your hands afterward. Put used tissues in a wastebasket.
- Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you don't have a tissue.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose , and mouth to prevent germs from entering your body.
Also, a person with signs of the flu should:
- Stay home from work, school, and errands and avoid contact with others.
- Consider wearing a surgical mask when around others.
Practice Hand Hygiene
Caregivers should always wash their hands before providing care. Afterward, wash again and apply alcohol-based hand sanitizer as well as follow these steps for proper hand hygiene:
- Wet hands with warm, running water and apply liquid soap.
- Rub hands together vigorously for at least 15 seconds, covering all surfaces and fingers.
- Scrub nails by rubbing them against the palms of your hands.
- Rinse your hands with water.
- Dry your hands thoroughly with a paper towel and use it to turn off the faucet. A shared towel will spread germs.
When a Household Member is Sick
The flu virus is spread when contaminated droplets exit the mouth and nose of an infected person and the virus comes in contact with others.So, follow these tips to protect yourself and others in your home:
- Keep everyone's personal items separate. All household members should avoid sharing computers, pens, papers, clothes, towels, sheets, blankets, food, or eating utensils.
- Disinfect door knobs, switches, handles, toys, and other surfaces that are commonly touched around the home or workplace.
- Disinfectant: 1 gallon water and 1/4 cup bleach. Mix a fresh batch every time you use it.
- It is ok to wash everyone's dishes and clothes together. Use detergent and very hot water. Wash your hands after handling dirty laundry.
- Wear disposable gloves when in contact with or cleaning up body fluids.
One person should be the caregiver. He or she may benefit by wearing a mask when giving care.
Care for a Loved One with the Flu
A person recovering from flu should have:
- Rest and plenty of liquids.
- No alcohol or tobacco.
Medications to Relieve Flu Symptoms
In some cases, a health care professional may prescribe antiviral drugs to treat the flu. Antibiotics (like penicillin) will not cure it.
Monitor Flu Symptoms
Keep a care log. Write down the date, time, fever, symptoms, medicines given and dosage. Make a new entry at least every 4 hours or when symptoms change. Call your healthcare professional again if your loved one has:
- A high fever.
- Children and adults: Greater than 103°F (39.4°C).
- Babies 3-24 months old: 102°F (38.8°C) or higher.
- Shaking Chills.
- Coughing that produces thick mucus.
- Dehydration (feeling of dry mouth or excessive thirst).
- Worsening of an existing serious medical condition (for example: heart or lung disease, diabetes, HIV, cancer).
If you cannot reach your healthcare professional, call 911 or local emergency number for any of the signs below:
- Irritability and/or confusion.
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain with each breath.
- Bluish skin.
- Stiff neck.
- Inability to move an arm or leg.
- First-time seizure
Dehydration occurs when the body loses too much water and it's not replaced quickly enough. It can be serious. Begin giving soothing drinks at the first signs of the flu and follow these tips:
- In addition to plenty of liquids, give ice and light, easily digested foods, such as soup and broth.
- If your loved one has diarrhea or vomiting, give fluids that contain electrolytes. These are available at your pharmacy or grocery store. Or you can make your own re-hydration electrolyte drink for someone over the age of 12. Make sure to speak with your health-care professional first if your loved one has any type of health conditions requiring dietary restrictions.
- 1 quart of water.
- 1/2 tsp baking soda.
- 1/2 tsp table salt.
- 3 to 4 tbsp. sugar.
- 1/4 tsp salt substitute.
- Mix well and flavor with lemon juice or sugar-free Kool-Aid.
If drinking liquids makes nausea worse, give one sip at a time until your loved one can drink again.
To help reduce a fever, do the following:
- Give plenty of fluids.
- Give fever-reducing medication, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen, as directed on the container's label (do not give aspirin to anyone younger that 20).
- Keep a record of your loved one's temperature in your care log.
- To relieve discomfort, give a sponge bath with lukewarm water.
After you have called your doctor or emergency number for a fever, continue to follow the home treatment recommendations above. If there is a delay in getting help, ask a health-care professional if you should start an additional dose of an alternate fever-reducing medication (acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin) between the doses described on the label. Always continue to give plenty of fluids.
Prepare for the Flu Season
Make a plan now for the flu season. Figure out what you will do if members of your household have to stay home from work or school or stay separated from others for a period of time. Keep extra supplies of food, water, medications, and your disaster supply kit on hand.
Flu care-giving supplies:
- Box of disposable gloves
- Alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Paper towels w Tissues
- Surgical masks (one for each person)
- Sugar, baking soda, salt, salt substitute