Influenza, or flu, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Flu is highly contagious and is usually spread by the coughs and sneezes of an infected person. Flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and March, although activity can last as late as May.
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
Period of Contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
Most people who get the flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that can result in hospitalization and sometimes death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. The flu also can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu. The groups of people who are more likely to get serious flu-related complications if they get sick with influenza are:
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
Managing your symptoms at home
Antivirals work by stopping the flu virus from multiplying in the body. They won't cure flu, but they may help slightly reduce the length of the illness and relieve some of the symptoms.
There are ways of preventing flu:
- The flu vaccination, the annual flu vaccine can help reduce your risk of getting flu each year, although it's not 100% effective because it doesn't work against every possible type of flu virus.
- Good hygiene (such as handwashing and cleaning),
- Eating well:
- Bananas and rice to soothe an upset stomach and curb diarrhea
- Vitamin C-containing foods like bell peppers
- Blueberries curb diarrhea and are high in natural aspirin, which may lower fevers and help with aches and pains
- Carrots, which contain beta-carotene
- Chili peppers may open sinuses, and help break up mucus in the lungs
- Cranberries may help prevent bacteria from sticking to cells lining the bladder and urinary tract
- Black and green tea are like natural antibiotic and anti-diarrhea effects
- Don't Cover Your Sneezes and Coughs With Your Hands
- Don't Touch Your Face
- Do Aerobic Exercise Regularly; If you are exercising regularly the likelihood of your acquiring a cold or other viral illness is significantly reduced. It is actually a well-known fact that exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body. The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and other pathogens that may otherwise opportunistically overrun your body.
- Don't Smoke
- Cut Back on Drinking Alcohol
- Antiviral medication.