We are at the peak of one of the nastiest flu seasons on record, with a widespread outbreak across the entire continental United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even as the spread slows (which it hasn’t yet), the risk of getting the flu could carry well into this spring.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS
Influenza is a contagious respiratory virus that infects the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs. It is very different from the common cold. The CDC says the flu comes on suddenly, not gradually, and has some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone will have a fever)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- Sometimes vomiting or diarrhea (more common in children)
HOW TO PREVENT INFECTION
Most people know that young children, pregnant women, and the elderly are at risk, as are many children and adults with disabilities. We know the basic precautions: covering our mouths when we sneeze, washing our hands a lot. But for those of us who are or care for someone who is medically complex or fragile, we have to go above and beyond. Here are some tips:
- Consult with a medical professional. Dr. Google is a wonderful tool, but you and your actual doctor are the best resource for your health.
- Seek antiviral treatment the moment symptoms present; or in some cases at exposure to the virus. This medicine is most effective the earlier you get it but can be beneficial even 48 hours into the illness.
- Avoid public places if there is a known outbreak.
- Request the school informs you if there are infected students.
- Ask how sick students and staff are separated and cared for until they can go home.
- Change clothes immediately when you get home.
- Take a shower after arriving home from school or crowded places.
- Avoid touching eyes, mouth, nose.
- Take your own pen everywhere – to the bank, to the store, to the doctor – so you don’t have to use something countless others have touched.
- Use hand sanitizer after touching shared surfaces such as ATMs, shopping carts, door handles, gas pumps, railings, water fountains, etc.
- Disinfect surfaces such as door handles, counters, toilets, sinks, remotes, phones, tables, etc.
- If you begin to feel sick, go home. Disinfect where you have touched.
- While masks are generally not effective way to prevent getting sick, they can be useful to wear if YOU are sick to prevent the spread in your home.
HOW LONG ARE YOU CONTAGIOUS
According to the CDC, we are often contagious 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 7 days after becoming sick. We are most contagious the first 3-4 days after the illness begins. Some people, especially young children and those with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
If you are exposed to the flu, you can expect symptoms to begin anywhere from 1 to 4 days; 2 days is the average.