Anyone who has had it knows it: The flu can make you feel horrible! The sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and fever are not pleasant. And all of these, which can be symptoms of a cold, too, are more intense when it is caused by the influenza virus. The more severe cases of the flu strike with high fever, muscle aches, chills, sore throat, cough, and fatigue. Unlike a cold, the flu can get worse and progress to serious illness.
The flu season has struck hard this year, but the good news is it is not too late to get vaccinated. Getting a vaccine is your best defense against contracting the bug during the flu season, which typically lasts throughout the winter months. The vaccine protects against the three viruses research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season.
So who should get a flu shot? Adults 50 years or older; children between the ages of 6 months and 5; women who will be pregnant during the flu season; healthcare workers involved in patient care; and people who live in nursing homes.
Getting vaccinated is important because the flu is a highly contagious disease. Flu vaccines are available in your doctor’s office, at some pharmacies for those over the age of 18, and at urgent care centers. The flu typically lasts about one to two weeks, although it can last up to a month. It will leave you feeling tired, and in some cases, exhausted. Bed rest and drinking lots of fluids such as water are recommended. Because the flu is a viral infection, it cannot be treated with antibiotics. There are antiviral medications prescribed to treat the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk condition or is very sick from the flu. When doctors prescribe these drugs, it is important to follow instructions carefully.
The most serious complication associated with the flu is pneumonia – an infection of the lungs which is more likely to strike children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses.
The CDC recommends watching out for the following emergency warning signs.
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish skin color
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Not waking up or not interacting
- Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
- Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- Fever with a rash
In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:
- Unable to eat
- Trouble breathing
- Has no tears when crying
- Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe or persistent vomiting
- Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse
If you do get the flu, avoid contact with others except to seek out medical care. Stay home until your fever is gone for at least 24 hours.
Courtesy of Peter Valko, MD, emergency medicine physician, on behalf of the Saint Peter’s Urgent Care Center in Skillman, a member of the Saint Peter’s Healthcare System. You do not need an appointment to obtain a flu shot at the Saint Peter’s Urgent Care Center. Patients are asked to fill out a pre-vaccine assessment, a questionnaire designed to assess whether you are a good candidate for a flu shot. Patients who are sick cannot be injected with the flu vaccine. For more information about urgent care center services at Saint Peter’s call 609-497-4597 or visit saintpetershcs.com/urgentcare.