As cooler temperatures settle in throughout much of the country, the chance of catching the flu is going up. About 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu each year and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of flu-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 20,000 people die each year.
“Everyone, especially those over age 65, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and young children need to take steps now to help prevent the flu or at least decrease its severity,” said Dr. David Seaberg with the American College of Emergency Physicians. “The flu is not a minor head cold, and you can end up in the ER with serious problems if you don’t take care of yourselves.”
The flu is caused by a virus and is spread from person to person by direct contact or through virus-infected droplets coughed or sneezed in the air. Most people recover completely in one or two weeks, but some develop serious and potentially life-threatening illness, such as pneumonia.
Flu symptoms tend to develop between one and four days after a person is exposed to the virus, and people are contagious from 24 hours before they become ill until their symptoms resolve.
Symptoms of influenza include:
- High fever
- Muscle aches
- Extreme fatigue
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
Call your doctor right away if there are signs of dehydration, seizures, earache or a cough the produces discolored mucus. Seek emergency care if you have difficulty breathing, experience pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, have sudden dizziness, become confused or have severe or persistent vomiting.
If a child’s symptoms get worse over several days and if they have a temperature greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few days, see a doctor. Children with chronic conditions, such as severe asthma or cystic fibrosis, may require hospitalization.
If you develop flu symptoms, get plenty of rest. Drink clear fluids such as water, broth, sports drinks, or electrolyte beverages made for infants to prevent becoming dehydrated.“
Emergency physicians highly recommend that persons who are at high risk of having serious flu complications and those who work and live with them get vaccinated each year,” said Dr. Seaberg.
The best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated every year. Now is the best time to do that, if you haven’t already.