Most people who get the flu will only develop a mild illness and won’t need medical care or antiviral drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, if you are at high risk for flu-related complications (young children, adults over 65, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses and those with weakened immune systems) it is best to reach out to a healthcare professional. Contact your primary care provider or, if you don’t have one, visit one of our Immediate Care Centers if you are at high risk for complications and think you have the flu.
What is influenza?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Influenza viruses attack your respiratory system, your nose, throat and lungs, causing mild to severe illness depending on additional risk factors.
What's the difference between a cold and the flu?
Flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. These two types of illnesses have similar symptoms and it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough are more common and intense with the flu.
Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Unlike the flu, colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations. Because of these shared symptoms, it can be difficult - or even impossible - to tell the difference between a cold and the flu. Special tests must be done within the first few days of illness to confirm if a person has the flu.
Who is at risk?
Anyone can get the flu. Young children, adults over 65, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses and those with weakened immune systems are all at higher risk for developing complications from the flu. Because influenza is a virus, symptoms come on suddenly.
What should I do?
Most people who get the flu will only develop a mild illness and won’t need medical care or antiviral drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Simple bed rest with plenty of fluids and over-the-counter pain relievers and medications to manage your symptoms are the best course of treatment for most people who get the flu. Antiviral medications used for influenza only shorten the course of illness by a day or two and are generally only recommended in patients with severe illness or who are at risk for complications. Your doctor will decide whether or not an antiviral is indicated for you.
What if I get worse?
If you or a loved one have the flu, there is no need to go to the emergency room unless you have emergency warning signs of advanced illness, including:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Fever with a rash
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Being unable to eat
- Has trouble breathing
- Has no tears when crying
- Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
How can I protect myself?
Because flu is contagious even before the first symptoms appear, you can spread the disease without even knowing you are sick. Influenza is spread by droplets that travel through the air when you cough, talk or sneeze. Those droplets can be inhaled directly or land on objects and surfaces such as doorknobs, computers or telephones, where germs can linger anywhere from two to eight hours. Good hygiene, along with good health habits and a little common sense can help prevent the spread of the flu:
- Wash your hands often or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to protect yourself from germs.
- Avoid touching your face. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. This helps prevent those around you from getting sick. Don’t have a tissue? Cough into the crook of your elbow or upper sleeve to prevent the spread of germs.
- If you are sick, stay home to help prevent others from getting sick. People with the flu can spread it to others who are up to six feet away.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Take care of yourself, get plenty of sleep, manage your stress, eat healthy, exercise daily and drink plenty of liquids to stay healthy.
Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System (SRHS) recommends not visiting a hospital if...
- You are pregnant
- You are under the age of 18
- You are an elderly adult
- You have lung conditions
- You have weakened immune system
- You are experiencing flu-like symptoms, including fever, nausea, breathing difficulty and general achiness
Get the flu vaccination.
Influenza is a serious disease that can cause hospitalization and sometimes death. Every flu season is different and influenza affects everyone differently. Even healthy individuals can get very sick from the flu. That is why it is important to protect yourself and those you love by getting vaccinated. The CDC recommends that everyone six months of age and older get vaccinated against the seasonal flu as soon as vaccines for the current season, which runs from October to March, are available. A new flu vaccine is developed every year, and is designed to protect against three to four influenza viruses that are expected to be most common during the upcoming season.
Even though the CDC recommends getting the vaccine as early in the season as possible, it is still beneficial anytime, even during peak outbreaks. Vaccines are given via an injection. Talk to your primary care physician about what is best for you. If you don’t have a primary care physician, visit MedicalGroupoftheCarolinas.com to establish care or visit one of our Immediate Care Centers.