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Be Prepared for Flu Season

Flu season is upon us. Prepare yourself with these helpful tips.

Seasonal influenza, more commonly referred to as “the flu,” is a viral infection caused by the influenza virus. Influenza activity typically peaks in the winter months in temperate regions and easily spreads from person to person. The virus can be spread by air droplets from coughing or sneezing. A person can also be infected with the virus when touching the mouth, eyes, or nose after coming in contact with an infected surface.

What are the symptoms?

Influenza symptoms usually appear as an abrupt onset of high fever, cough, body aches, headache, malaise, runny nose, sore throat, or any combination of these. Symptoms typically show up two days after exposure to the virus. However, an individual with the influenza virus becomes contagious one day before the onset of symptoms and continues to be contagious for up to five days after symptoms appear.

What treatments are available?

Treatment of influenza usually involves over the counter medications for symptomatic relief and/or prescription anti-virals specifically designed to fight against the flu. While treatments are available most people actually recover from the influenza virus naturally within a week without any medical intervention at all. However, complications from the flu can occur and, in severe cases such as pneumonia, may require hospitalization.

If flu is suspected, it is important to note that children and teenagers should not be given aspirin or cold remedies containing aspirin. This includes products with acetylsalicylate, salicylate, acetylsalicylic acid, ASA or salicylic acid. These ingredients can lead to them developing Reye’s syndrome, a serious and potentially fatal disease that affects the neurological system. It is important to know the ingredients of any medications prior to administering them to children or teenagers. If you are administering drugs produced locally in China and cannot read the label of the medicine box, it is important to confirm the ingredients prior to usage.

How can I prevent getting the flu?

Due to the contagious nature of the virus, influenza epidemics occur every year globally, often spreading quickly through schools, homes and workplaces. It is therefore important that you take preventive steps to control the spread of the flu. Some preventive measures include the following:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick to help prevent others from becoming ill.
  • Keep your child at home if you suspect he/she has the flu to avoid spreading epidemics through the class and/or school. The child should be without fever for at least 24 hours before returning to school.
  • Cover the mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, and/or use hand sanitizer (especially children).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, especially when out in public places or traveling.
  • If you or a family member have symptoms of the flu, avoid travel as global epidemics often are traced back to travelers who travel with their illness and spread to others.
  • Practice good health habits to optimize the immune system: get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress well, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food
  • If a family member or close contact is diagnosed with the flu, discuss with your physician about taking medication to prevent the spread of flu for the other family members.
  • Influenza vaccination for those at risk

While preventive measures are important, it has been scientifically demonstrated that the single best way to protect yourself and others against influenza is to get a flu vaccination every year. Yearly flu vaccinations are offered throughout the influenza season. Early vaccination when the vaccine becomes available is advised to allow time for effective antibodies to develop before the onset of influenza season. However, getting vaccinated in December or even later can still be beneficial since most influenza activity occurs in January or in the later winter months. Children ages six months to eight years who are receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time will need two doses spaced four weeks apart so early vaccination for this group is important.

Who should get the flu shot?

The flu vaccination is strongly recommended for those at highest risk for developing complications from the flu. According to the United States Center for Disease Control (CDC), all persons six months and older should receive the influenza vaccine. Those at particularly high risk include:

  • Children between six months and 18 years of age
  • Adults older than 49 years of age
  • People with chronic diseases
  • Pregnant women
  • Healthcare workers
  • Caregivers of those at high risk

If you develop several flu-like symptoms such as cough and fever described above, and are concerned about your health — especially if you are at high risk for complications from the flu — you should consult a physician immediately.

Resources:

United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm

The World Health Organization (WHO): www.who.int/topics/influenza/en/