It’s obvious that everyone’s mind has been focused on COVID-19 and that’s understandable. What we shouldn’t do is forget about the very real risk of the flu. It’s more than just a stomach bug or common cold and effects many more people than is commonly thought. The flu is serious and needs to be treated as such. Reviewing what we know can help us have a safer Winter.
In order to protect yourself and your loved ones from flu this season, let’s take a look at the answers to some common questions about the flu.
What is Influenza (Flu)?
Flu is a serious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that usually infect the throat, nose, and can also infect the lungs. It causes mild to severe illness and can lead to death, especially in certain age groups and with compromised sufferers.
What are the most common flu symptoms?
Contrary to popular belief, the flu is different from a cold. It usually comes on quite suddenly and flu sufferers exhibit a wider range of symptoms than those who have a common cold. Flu symptoms include:
- fever* and chills
- repetitive cough
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches
- some may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*Not everyone with flu will have a fever.
How is the flu diagnosed?
Although there are several tests for the flu, the medical professional will first find out if the symptoms line up with a flu diagnosis before administering the test. A swab is used for testing and some results are back within 15-20 minutes. More accurate tests take up to a few hours.
How do people catch the flu?
Medical professionals believe that flu viruses are spread primarily by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets end up in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby (YUCK) and infect the recipients. It is also possible that a person gets the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eye area.
How many Americans get the flu each year?
A 2018 CDC study on the flu examined the percentage of the U.S. population who got the flu using two different methods and comparing those findings. Both methods resulted in numbers showing that on average 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season with a range of between 3% and 11% depending on the particular season.
Who is most likely to be infected with influenza?
The same study cited above found that children are most likely to get sick from flu and that people 65 and older are least likely to contract the virus. The “attack rates” by age group were around 9% for children 0-17 years, 8% for adults 18-64 years, and 4% for adults 65 years and older. These numbers show that children younger than 18 are more than twice as likely to develop a symptomatic flu infection than adults who are 65 and older.
How does the medical community estimate seasonal incidence of influenza?
The seasonal influenza virus infection is so common that the number of people infected each year can only be estimated. These statistics are based upon CDC-measured flu hospitalization rates and are then adjusted to produce an estimate of the total number of influenza infections in the United States for any given season. These estimates are then divided by the census population to estimate the seasonal attack rate of influenza.
Does seasonal incidence of influenza change based on the severity of flu season?
In a word, yes. The number of people who get sick each season from flu varies.
When are infected persons most contagious?
People with flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after they become ill. Adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days following initial infection. Some persons, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
The period of time from when a person is exposed the the virus and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is usually about two days but can range from one to four days.
What kind of complications occur as a result of the Flu?
According to the CDC, possible complications of flu include ear infections, sinus infections and bacterial pneumonia. And chronic medical conditions like asthma, congestive heart failure and diabetes can become worse even after recovery.
Who is at the greatest risk?
Even primarily healthy people can contract the flu and serious problems related to flu can happen at any age. Still, ome people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. The 65 years and older folks who have a lower chance of infection are often those who get sickest. And people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease are also in danger of developing serious complications. Pregnant women and children younger than five years old fall into this category as well.
How can I keep me and my family safe from the Flu?
We can’t stress enough that the most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Flu vaccine has been shown to seriously reduce flu related illnesses and the risk of serious complications that result in hospitalization or even death.
There are also every day actions that help individuals and families stay safe during flu season. Here is a list of precautionary measures:
- Wash your hands well and do it often. Ordinary soap is sufficient but if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Contrary to popular belief, antibacterial soaps add little protection against viruses.
- Use a tissue to cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, or cover your mouth and nose with your upper sleeve instead of your hand.
- Throw used tissues in the trash. They are notorious virus carriers!
- Remember to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Make sure kids don’t share cups, eating utensils and school supplies.
- Stay home if you or your children are sick to avoid spreading the virus to others.
- Avoid close contact with sick people when possible.
- Those who have children who attend day care or school must take extra precautions. Make sure your school or day care has strict “stay at home” policies when someone is sick.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Practice other good health habits and keep your family’s immune system strong throughout the year.
- Take your CBD! Research shows the the endocannabinoid system can impact the immune system.
- And, as always, exercise, try to manage stress and be mindful of your actions and the actions of those around you. Stay healthy, friends!