Flu (Influenza)

What is flu?

Flu (also called Influenza) is a viral infection of the nose, throat, trachea, and bronchi (air passages). Outbreaks of flu occur every year, usually in late fall and winter.

Flu viruses cause more severe symptoms than cold viruses. They can also cause more severe medical problems. Older adults; people whose immune systems are weak; and people with chronic medical problems, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, are particularly at risk for more severe symptoms or problems.

How does it occur?

If you are infected, the virus is in the mucus and saliva and can spread from person to person when you cough or sneeze. It can also spread when you touch something with the flu virus on it (like cups, doorknobs, hands and so forth) and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.

What are the symptoms?

Flu tends to start suddenly. You may feel fine one hour and have a high fever the next.

The usual first symptoms are:

  • chills and fever (often 101 to 103?F, or 38 to 39.4?C)  

  • sweating  

  • body aches  

  • headache.  

Symptoms soon to follow may include:

  • runny or stuffy nose  

  • cough  

  • sore throat  

  • eyes sensitive to light.  

How is it diagnosed?

Flu can usually be diagnosed from your symptoms. Your Reddy Urgent Care healthcare provider may examine you to rule out other types of infection, such as strep throat and sinusitis.

There are lab tests for flu that will give a result within a half hour, but they are not as accurate as many other tests for other problems. Once flu is known to be in a community, the diagnosis is usually just based on your symptoms. In most cases there is no need to do a test.

How is it treated?

Usually you will recognize the symptoms and can manage them at home.

To take care of yourself at home:

  • Get plenty of rest.  

  • Drink a lot of clear liquids. Water, broth, juice, electrolyte solutions, and noncaffeinated drinks are best. Especially when you have a high fever, your body needs much more liquid than when you are healthy. Having enough fluids also helps the mucus in your sinuses and lungs stay thin and easy to clear from the body. When the mucus is thin, it is less likely to cause a sinus infection or bronchitis.  

  • Consider taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve headaches and muscle aches and to lower a fever.  

    • o.Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.  

    • o.Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days for any reason.  

  • If your nose or sinuses become congested, a decongestant medicine may help you feel better. It may help prevent ear or sinus infections.  

  • Take cough medicine to help control your cough.  

  • Antihistamine medicine can be helpful if a runny nose is making it hard for you to sleep. However, antihistamine has a very drying effect and may cause the mucus in your nose, throat, and lungs to become thick and dry. This type of medicine can also cause confusion. Older adults should check with their healthcare provider before taking this type of medicine.  

There are medicines your Reddy Urgent Care healthcare provider can prescribe that can make flu symptoms less severe. They may also help the symptoms not last as long. Examples of these drugs are zanamivir (Relenza) and oseltamivir (Tamiflu). These flu medicines are available as tablets or nasal sprays. They must be started within the first 48 hours of illness to be effective. Usually they need to be taken only a few days. A common side effect of the tablets is lightheadedness or dizziness.

Call your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of the flu and:

  • You have heart disease, asthma, chronic bronchitis, kidney disease, diabetes, or another chronic medical problem.  

  • Your immune system does not work normally (for example, because you are taking steroids for another medical problem).  

  • Your symptoms become more severe, you have a painful cough, you are coughing up phlegm, or you are having trouble breathing. These symptoms can be signs of pneumonia or bronchitis.  

How long will the effects last?

Flu symptoms usually last 3 to 7 days. They often start getting better after the first 2 days or so.

Infection with the flu virus sometimes leads to other infections, such as ear, sinus, and bronchial infections. Pneumonia can also occur as a result of the flu. It can be caused by the flu virus itself or by bacteria infecting lung tissues that have been damaged by the virus. Pneumonia is a common cause of death in people over the age of 65 and often occurs during and after flu outbreaks.

An unusual complication of flu is Reye’s syndrome, which usually occurs in children and teens and rarely in adults. Reye’s syndrome is not well understood but it involves failure of the liver and swelling of the brain, which together can lead to coma and sometimes death. A link has been shown between the use of aspirin during flu and Reye’s syndrome. For this reason it is best to avoid taking aspirin and other salicylates when you have the flu.

What can I do to prevent flu?

Flu shots help prevent the flu. Because the flu virus is different from year to year, you need to get a new flu shot each year. October is the best time to get vaccinated. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Flu seasons can vary from region to region. If you are at high risk for infection and plan to travel to an area where you might be exposed to the flu, make sure you have an up-to-date flu shot before you go on your trip.

If you do get the flu even though you had your annual shot, the vaccine helps protect against severe infection.

A new alternative to flu shots is FluMist. It is a nasal spray form of the vaccine for healthy adults under age 50. It costs more than the shot. As with flu shots, you will need a new dose of FluMist every year. Pregnant women cannot take the nasal spray. Also, people with some other medical conditions should not take FluMist. If you are considering using FluMist, ask your provider if it is recommended for you.

If a flu outbreak has begun and you have not had the flu vaccine and need some protection, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine that can decrease your chances of getting the flu during the outbreak. You will need to take these medicines for at least 2 weeks after you are vaccinated. If you don’t get the vaccine, you need to take the medicine until the flu outbreak has left your community, which may be several weeks. If you do get the flu, the medicines can make your symptoms less severe.

Other things you can do to help avoid getting the flu are:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Wash for 20 seconds (long enough to sing the whole “Happy Birthday” song) or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.  

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth when you are out in public.  

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Stay at least 6 feet away if you can.  

  • Try to take good care of yourself: Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy food. Stop smoking.  

  • Keep surfaces clean–especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children. Some viruses and bacteria can live 2 hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, and desks. Wipe them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the label.  

  • It is a good practice not to eat in or near where you do your work–for example, if you are a cashier, salesperson, or school secretary. Your hands or food might be contaminated with virus particles from customers or schoolchildren, depending on your place of work.  

If you are sick, you can help protect others if you:

  • Don’t go to work or school. Avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If you must leave the house, think about wearing a face mask if you have one.  

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it, and then wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve instead of your hands.  

  • Clean your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub, especially after using tissues or coughing or sneezing into your hands