The U.S. flu season is here – are you ready for it? To better understand flu season, let’s take a look at some of the key questions surrounding the flu and its potential impact on individuals across the United States.
What Is the Flu?
The flu is a contagious respiratory disease. It is caused by a virus that attacks the upper and lower portions of the respiratory tract.
People are most frequently affected by the flu in winter and spring. During these seasons, the flu virus may be more prone than ever before to spread from person to person via respiratory secretions.
For instance, a person who handles items contaminated by someone who is currently dealing with the flu virus may be exposed to flu germs. In this scenario, a flu virus infection may occur.
The flu virus affects men, women and children, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Foundation reports between 5% and 20% of the U.S. population gets the flu annually. Additionally, the CDC Foundation notes tens of thousands of people are hospitalized due to the flu virus each year, and thousands of people die annually due to flu-related illnesses.
What Are Some of the Most Common Flu Symptoms?
Common flu symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Body or muscle aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
It is important to note that differentiating between a common cold and flu is sometimes difficult, too.
There are more than 100 types of cold viruses, and these viruses may cause coughing, sore throat, body aches and other flu-like symptoms. However, cold symptoms tend to be less severe than those associated with a flu virus.
Whereas cold symptoms may make it tough for a person to get out of bed and perform everyday activities, flu symptoms may force an individual’s body to shut down entirely. Flu symptoms are severe and intense in comparison to cold symptoms. Plus, if flu symptoms go unaddressed for an extended period of time, they may lead to pneumonia, bacterial infections and other serious health problems.
How Can I Treat the Flu?
Fighting the flu bug is rarely simple. If a person believes he or she is dealing with a flu virus, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs may help this individual quickly alleviate various flu symptoms.
For example, oral or nasal decongestants often help flu sufferers reduce swelling in the nasal passages. On the other hand, people who are dealing with flu-related sneezing or nasal discharge can pick up an antihistamine to help relieve these issues.
Antiviral drugs may also help a person overcome his or her flu symptoms. These drugs are designed to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. In some instances, they may help a person prevent flu symptoms as well.
For those who want to find the optimal flu treatment, it may be beneficial to consult with a doctor. A doctor consultation allows an individual to receive expert insights into his or her flu symptoms. Best of all, a doctor can help a person determine which OTC or antiviral drugs or other flu treatments to use and ensure that these treatments won’t interfere with an individual’s current medications.
How Long Does the U.S. Flu Season Last?
The U.S. flu season begins in October. Meanwhile, the number of flu-like illnesses in the United States typically starts to increase in November, reaches its peak in January and February and plummets as the season concludes at the end of March.
Flu season is often problematic for adults and children alike. In fact, the CDC reports approximately 9% of the U.S. population was hospitalized due to flu-related illnesses during the 2017-2018 U.S. flu season.
What Can I Do to Limit the Risk of Infection During the U.S. Flu Season?
The flu virus can affect anyone. Fortunately, there are lots of things that you can do to minimize the risk of infection during the U.S. flu season, including:
- Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and clean running water to wash your hands regularly throughout the day for 20 seconds at a time. Also, if soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand rub to clean your hands.
- Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth. Touching your eyes, biting your fingernails and other activities that involve your nose, eyes and mouth may cause flu germs to spread. Therefore, you should try to keep your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth whenever possible.
- Get a flu vaccine. Annual flu vaccines are available at pharmacies and medical treatment centers nationwide. You may even be eligible to receive a yearly flu shot free of charge.
- Cover your nose and mouth. Place a tissue over your nose and mouth any time you cough or sneeze. Then, dispose of your used tissue immediately.
- Disinfect contaminated surfaces. Perform regular home and office cleaning. That way, you can clean and disinfect surfaces that otherwise may be contaminated with flu germs.
- Stay home from work or school. If you experience flu symptoms, it is usually a good idea to err on the side of caution. Thus, to prevent the spread of flu germs, you should stay home from work or school until your flu symptoms subside.
- Avoid people who are sick. If a family member, friend or colleague is dealing with the flu, you should avoid this individual for the time being. And remember, flu symptoms may sometimes be tough to detect in others. But if you wash your hands frequently and disinfect potentially contaminated surfaces, you can further reduce your risk of suffering a flu infection.
- Get plenty of rest. Sleep helps the body combat infection. If you take time to rest, you could accelerate your recovery from a case of the flu.
- Stay hydrated. Consuming water and other fluids helps boost the body’s immune response and combat headaches.
- Follow a doctor’s orders. Consult with a doctor to determine the best course of action to treat any flu symptoms.
This flu season, don’t let the flu get the best of you. Instead, take advantage of the aforementioned tips, and you can ward off flu germs like never before.