Avoiding Seasonal Flu
Primary sources for this information are the Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Health Association (CSHEMA) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).
About Seasonal Flu
Every year, usually between December and May, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the population in the U.S. become ill with the flu, or influenza. This is the normal course of seasonal flu to which we have become accustomed. It can cause serious illness and even death in the very young, the elderly and other individuals with impaired resistance and chronic illnesses. For this reason, everyone should get a flu shot unless your health care provider advises you otherwise. See below for more information on getting a flu shot.
What is the flu?
The flu, or influenza, is a respiratory illness caused by airborne viruses that spread from person-to-person by droplets from coughing or sneezing. The period between becoming infected with the virus and becoming ill is usually 1 to 4 days. The contagious period is 3 to 5 days from the onset of symptoms.
Symptoms of the flu, or influenza, are sudden onset of:
- Fever of 100 F or higher, or feeling feverish with chills
- Cough and/or sore throat
- Headache and/or body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
- May have nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (mostly in children)
- Symptoms usually last 4-7 day
How flu spreads
Flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from close person-to-person contact, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth, eyes or nose. The virus can live for as long as two hours on surfaces like doorknobs, desks and tables.
Healthy adults, infected with the virus, may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
Preventing Seasonal Flu
There are several things you can do to keep from getting seasonal flu:
Get a flu shot (Flu shot locator)
Wash your hands
Hand washing is effective in preventing the flu, cold and other infectious diseases. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rubbing your hands together with soap and water is one of the most important ways to prevent infection. Disease-causing germs can enter your body when your unwashed hands touch your nose, eyes, mouth, and open wounds. Make hand washing a habit and encourage others in your workplace to do the same.
When soap and water are not available, use an antibacterial hand cleaner. Never wipe the hand cleaner off; allow your hands to air dry. When used properly, these sanitizers reduce the transmission of disease-causing germs.
Other ways to prevent the flu
- Stay away from others if you are sick; don’t go to class or work.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- When you come back from public places such as a mall, wash your hands.
- Cover your mouth with tissue when sneezing..
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Most cases of the flu are self limiting and do not need medical attention.
If you are sick:
If you develop symptoms of the flu, stay in bed. Do not go to classes while acutely ill. Staying home from class will limit the spread of the flu. Get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids and stay in bed. Be alert to the well being of your friends. Those with flu may need assistance in getting medical attention, fluids (available in the Health Center) and food.
Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen, taken as directed on packaging, can reduce fever and help with body aches and sore throat. Aspirin is not recommended for the flu.
The flu is cause by a virus so antibiotics are not effective in combating the flu.
Tamiflu and Relenza are antiviral drugs that are recommended for people with chronic disease, the elderly and those acutely ill. These drugs must be taken early in the course of the illness.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Most cases of the flu are self limiting and do not medical attention but…..
Seek Medical Attention Immediately if you Experience:
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
Flu like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worsening cough
Any symptom that worsens or is persistent beyond the expected length of illness (4-7)days.
If you have a chronic illness like asthma or diabetes it is a good idea to seek medical attention when you have the flu. In most instances people can rest and care for themselves unless symptoms listed above are present.
More information about preventing the flu
CDC has abundant information on influenza, or the flu.
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