When you’re waiting in a crowded line, sitting in a packed theater or stuck in a full conference room and someone next to you starts to cough and hack or sneeze, you realize that you’re about to have a nasty introduction to flu season.
Flu season is broadly considered October through February of any year, although it can extend much farther than that. Flu shots are offered beginning in October and are recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for everyone older than 6 months of age. Flu shots are especially important for people with immune system concerns such as pregnant women, young children, elderly people, and those with long-term medical conditions.
“I recommend that people with diabetes, heart disease, thyroid conditions and immunosuppressant diseases all get the flu shot in October,” said Family Medicine specialist Dr. Rajesh Rao of Advance ER.
What is the flu?
The flu is a general term that describes a number of viruses that can attack the body, leaving you with a variety of symptoms including: fever, chills, body aches, headaches, stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat, upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. These symptoms can be present for 5 to 14 days, though most are done in five. “If you’ve got it, you know it,” said Dr. Rao.
Am I contagious?
You can be contagious a day before you ever begin showing symptoms and can continue to be contagious to the end of your symptoms.
How can I prevent the flu?
Hand washing is the Number 1 prevention for viruses of all types. Washing frequently with soap and water is your best bet. A substitute of hand sanitizer is ok in a pinch, but studies have shown washing with soap and water is the best. Soap does not have to be antibacterial, regular soap is just as effective. “Washing for 20-30 seconds is ideal for removing germs,” said Dr. Rao.
In addition to hand washing, getting the flu shot as early in the season as possible is also an important preventative method. A good habit of not touching your mouth, nose or eyes also helps keep germs from entering these vulnerable points. Getting regular exercise helps your immune system stay strong to resist germs when they come along. Finally, people with suppressed immune systems may choose to wear a mask in public during the flu season.
Will the flu shot protect me from every virus?
No, each year the flu shot is calibrated to target the top three or four viruses that are predicted to be prevalent that year. It is possible to get a different virus and succumb to the flu.
I’ve got the flu. Now what should I do?
You have the option of going to Advance ER to be seen by a physician, although don’t count on getting antibiotics since they are ineffective against viruses. If you have developed secondary symptoms from bacteria, such as pneumonia, you may benefit from antibiotics. To help shorten the length of the flu, you can get an anti-viral medication from your Advance ER physician but it only works if you start taking it within the first day or two of showing symptoms. “If you’ve got the flu, we’re here to help,” said Dr. Rao.
“Otherwise, it’s back to the old standbys of getting enough fluids, rest, chicken soup and Vitamin C while the virus runs its course,” said Dr. Rao. If your fever spikes, a lukewarm bath may help bring it down. If your sinuses are congested you can try taking a decongestant, although it is not recommended for children under the age of six.
This flu season, take the preventative steps of getting the flu shot at Advance ER and develop good hygiene and exercise habits to keep your body strong. These measures may very well squash the flu bug before it brings you down.
Meet Dr. Rajesh Rao:
Dr. Rajesh Rao is board-certified in Family Medicine and Emergency Medicine and is a senior management partner at Advance ER. He received his medical degree at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Dr. Rao is fluent in English and Hindi.