Help prevent the spread of the flu
Influenza typically peaks in January and February, and every year it's associated with illness ranging from mild to severe. Now is the time to take action. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive the flu vaccine every season.
"Flu is a general term for seasonal influenza, which is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system," explains Tiffany Casper, D.O., a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Tomah. "Symptoms often come on suddenly and at first may seem like a common cold with a runny nose or congestion, sneezing, and sore throat."
Symptoms can progress to include:
• Fever or feeling feverish (not all will experience fever with influenza)
• Body aches and muscle stiffness
• Chills and sweats
• Fatigue and weakness
• Nasal congestion
Dr. Casper says the good news is that there are a number of steps you can take to decrease your chance of getting the flu:
1. Get an annual vaccination.
The flu vaccine is available as an injection or a nasal spray. While the vaccine isn't 100% effective, it is by far your best defense from getting the flu. "You cannot get the flu from these immunizations, as the vaccination contains inactivated, or killed, virus or weakened virus incapable of causing the disease," says Dr. Casper.
2. Wash your hands.
Practicing good hand hygiene not only can keep you from catching the flu, but also it prevents other common infections. Scrub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer also can be effective.
3. Cover your coughs and sneezes.
Whenever you cough or sneeze, you should cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, or pull your arm up and cough or sneeze into your sleeve at the elbow. Try not to cough or sneeze into your hands.
4. Avoid crowds during peak flu season.
The influenza virus spreads easily wherever people congregate - in child care centers, schools, office buildings, auditoriums and public transportation. "While you don't have to be reclusive, avoiding crowds during peak flu season can lower your chances of catching influenza," recommends Dr. Casper. "You also should stay home from work and school when ill to prevent further spread of the virus."
"It's important to note that seasonal influenza is not the same thing as what many people refer to as the stomach flu, which is a common term for an intestinal infection that causes diarrhea, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting," adds Dr. Casper.