What is influenza?
Influenza (the flu) is a contagious disease that is caused by one of many influenza viruses. It primarily attacks the respiratory tract in humans (nose, throat, and lungs). The flu usually comes on suddenly and may include these symptoms: fever, headache, tiredness (can be extreme), dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, body aches, insomnia. These symptoms are usually referred to as "flu-like symptoms."
Should I get vaccinated for the flu?
Anyone who does not want to become ill with influenza should consider getting vaccinated. This is especially important for certain subgroups such as pregnant women, those with obesity, chronic lung diseases such as asthma, and other disease or taking medications which suppress the immune system.
What is the best way to prevent flu?
The best way to prevent the flu is to be immune to the viruses. The preferred way to do that is to get the flu shot.
Avoiding exposure to the flu is helpful but is very difficult. Ways to avoid contracting the disease include: wash your hands or use hand gels containing at least 60% alcohol; do not touch your face, eyes, mouth unless your hands are clean. Avoid contact with an infected person.
Sick people can help by not spreading the virus. Do not go out unless medically necessary and then wear a surgical mask. Sneeze or cough into the mask or a tissue, then discard the tissue in the trash. Remain isolated from others ideally for 7-8 days after becoming symptomatic. Use proper cough and sneezing etiquette and cleanse your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
Can anyone get the flu?
Anyone can get the flu, but the disease is more severe for some people. Most people who get the flu will recover in 1 to 2 weeks, but some people will develop life-threatening complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of the flu. Millions of people in the United States - about 10% to 20% of U.S. residents - will get the seasonal flu each year. An average of about 36,000 people per year in the United States die from the flu, and 114,000 per year have to be admitted to the hospital as a result of influenza. Serious problems from flu can happen at any age. People > 65 years old, people of any age with chronic medical conditions, and very young children are more likely to get complications from seasonal flu. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections are three examples of complications from flu. The flu can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may have worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.
How is the influenza virus passed around?
The flu is spread when a person who has the flu coughs, sneezes, or speaks and sends flu virus into the air, and other people inhale the virus. The virus enters the nose, throat, or lungs of a person and begins to multiply, causing symptoms of the flu. Flu may be spread when a person touches a surface that has flu viruses on it - a door handle, for instance - and then touches his or her nose, eyes or mouth. The Flu Is Contagious. A person can spread the flu starting one day before they feel sick. Adults can continue to pass the flu virus to others for another 7-8 days after symptoms start. Children can pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1-4 days after the virus enters the body. Some persons can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons can still spread the virus to others.
How do you know if you have the flu?
Your respiratory illness might be the flu if you have sudden onset of body aches, fever, and respiratory symptoms, and your illness occurs during November through April (the usual flu season in the Northern Hemisphere). If you have these symptoms during the H1N1 pandemic time, it is much more likely that you have influenza than other virus infections. However, during this time, other respiratory illnesses can cause similar symptoms and flu can be caught at any time of the year. It is impossible to tell for sure if you have the flu based on symptoms alone. Doctors can perform tests to see if you have the flu if you are in the first few days of your illness, but these test are not highly sensitive have many limitiations.
What should you do if you get the flu?
A virus causes influenza, so antibiotics (like penicillin) don’t work to cure it. Antiviral medications have been shown to decrease the severity of the illness and duration of symptoms by 1 - 1 1/2 days. These medications are primarily used for people at high risk for complications of influenza. High risk people are are those who are pregnant, the very young, or have chronic diseases such as asthma, or are over age 65.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get an influenza vaccine (flu shot) each fall, before flu season. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms - and particularly fever - without first speaking to your doctor. Giving aspirin to children and teenagers who have influenza can cause a rare but serious illness called Reye syndrome. Children or teenagers with the flu should get plenty of rest, drink lots of liquids, and take medicines that contain no aspirin to relieve symptoms.
Who should seek medical attention? What are the risk groups?
Most people with the flu can manage recovery at home with little or no medical attention. However, some people are at higher risk of serious flu-related complications.
Individuals in the following risk groups should consult with their health care providers with the onset of flu-like symptoms, or following recent close contact with someone who has the flu:
When should you seek medical attention?
Any sick UGA student desiring medical treatment should make an appointment with their PCP or another clinician on their team. After regular hours they should go to the Urgent Care Clinic during usual evening and weekend hours.
People who have the flu and develop any of the following symptoms should call a health care provider without delay for medical advice or attention.
What is the myth of the “Stomach Flu”?
Many people use the term "stomach flu" to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea that are not caused by the flu virus, but can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria, or even parasites. However, while vomiting, diarrhea, and being "sick to your stomach" can sometimes be related to the flu - particularly in children and with an H1N1 flu infection - these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza. The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.