How to identify, prevent and battle the flu

Flu, which is short for influenza, is a seasonal illness that is highly contagious and is caused by viruses. It affects countless Americans every winter. Getting the flu when you’re young and relatively healthy will cost you about two or three weeks of feeling miserable in bed, but the virus is much more severe for the elderly and for infants who do not have battle-ready immune systems. If you are diabetic or have heart disease, catching the flu could even be fatal. It’s easy to mistake the symptoms of the flu with that of the common cold but doctors agree that the two couldn’t be more different. People with flu present with chills, dry cough, general aches and pains, and a headache. Extreme fatigue and a high temperature are also very common with the flu. If you have a sore, itchy throat, are sneezing and have a stuffy or running nose you probably just have a cold. The flu often feels more intense than a cold, so pay attention to your body and don’t ignore your symptoms. Visit a doctor just to be safe. The flu virus spreads through the air so you can catch it when someone around you sneezes. The virus also settles on surfaces such as doorknobs, elevator buttons and supermarket carts so you can often prevent getting infected by washing your hands often and avoid touching your hands and mouth. However, a surefire way to prevent you from getting the flu (or getting only a mild version of it) is taking a flu shot every year. Since this shot is covered by Medicare and several private health insurance plans, you should get one between December and March, a time that the medical community calls the flu season. If you suspect that you have the flu, call your doctor immediately. Getting diagnosed within 48 hours gives the prescription drugs a better chance of working effectively. Your doctor may prescribe drugs called antivirals. If you have a secondary bacterial infection along with the flu, you may get a prescription for antibiotics. Antibiotics do not treat the flu. A lot people take an antiviral even when they are healthy, just because there is a flu outbreak in their neighborhood, church or school. This is also a preventative measure but always check in with the Doctor before you take anything. Once you have been diagnosed, give yourself time to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Fever, aches and pains can make it difficult to feel truly rested but medicines like acetaminophens can help you with those symptoms. The flu is a respiratory illness that attacks the lungs and nasal passages so don’t aggravate it by smoking or being around smoke. Cigarette smoke will almost definitely speed up the infection and make it much harder to get better. The best thing you can do for your community when you are ill with the flu is to keep yourself away from crowded places. If your child is diagnosed with the flu, call the school and inform them immediately so that other parents can take precautionary measures.