There's no doubt about it, cold and flu season is a sure thing. And it's coming whether you're ready or not. Which means that it's time to make sure you and your family are protected against the virus.
Health officials say 5% to 20% of the U.S. population will get the flu, on average, each year. And more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized each year because of problems with the illness. Officials added that flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people in the U.S.
When is Flu Season?
Influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.
What is the flu?
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications.
How Flu Spreads?
The Flu is Contagious. People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick.
Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days.
Doctors say the best way to prevent getting the flu is quite easy. All you have to do is cover your mouth if you cough; wash your hands with soap and water; and if you can't do that, hand sanitizer is always an option.
Though you can use those simple steps to help prevent getting sick yourself, doctors say getting vaccinated can actually help protect the people around you.
Symptoms The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
· Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
· Sore throat
· Runny or stuffy nose
· Muscle or body aches
· Fatigue (tiredness)
· Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults are.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everybody over six months of age get vaccinated. It's especially important for people 65 and older, anyone who has a chronic condition (such as lung or heart disease, diabetes, cancer or HIV infection), pregnant women, people on immunosuppressive drugs and healthcare workers.
There's no cure, but there are some natural ways to ease your symptoms.
1. Stay home and get plenty of rest.
Mind your flu manners. On the first day you have symptoms, call your work or school and tell them you won't be coming in for a few days. You're sick -- and very contagious! Take advantage of down time and give your body some much-needed rest. Curl up on the couch and spend some time reading, watching DVDs, or just cat-napping while your body battles the virus.
2. Drink plenty of fluids.
Make sure you get more liquids. It doesn't all have to be water -- fruit juices, sports drinks, and broth-based soups (like chicken noodle soup) also count. They keep your respiratory system hydrated and turn that nasty, thick mucus into a thin liquid you can cough up and spit out. That's good -- if it builds up in your lungs it could lead to an infection.
3. Treat aches and fever.
Got fever? That's because your body has turned up the heat to fight off the flu virus.
Treat it and the aches that come with it with over-the-counter medicationslike acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Ask your doctor which is right for you.
Never give aspirin to anyone younger than 19. It's linked to a condition known as Reye's syndrome, a serious illness that can damage the brain and liver.
4. Take care of your cough.
Over-the-counter treatments can calm your hack. Try an expectorant, which turns mucus into liquid so you can cough it up. Don't give over-the-counter cough or cold medicine to children under 4.
5. Breathe in steam.
Fill the bathroom sink with hot water. Add 1 teaspoon of an over-the-counter menthol rub and breathe in the steam for several minutes until you feel better. You can also add a few drops of menthol or eucalyptus oil. They can open your airways, ease congestion, and make it easier to breathe. There's no proof, though, that any of these really help with the symptoms.
6. Sit in a steamy bathroom.
If you're still stuffed up, sit in the bathroom with the door closed. Let the shower run hot until the room fills with moist steam. Sit away from the water to avoid burns.
7. Run the humidifier.
If the air in your house is dry, a mist humidifier or vaporizer can moisten it to ease congestion and coughs. Don't use a warm mist because it can promote the growth of bacteria and molds. Also make sure to keep the device clean to prevent mold development.
8. Try a lozenge.
Sucking on soothing lozenges will moisten and coat a scratchy throat. It may quiet your cough, too.
9. Get salty.
Saline nose drops or sprays are available over-the-counter at any drug or grocery store. They work, they're safe -- even for kids -- and they won't make your sore throat worse. Put several drops into one nostril, and gently blow the mucus and saline out. Repeat the process on the other side until both are unblocked.
10. Ask for an antiviral.
You take these drugs when symptoms start. They can lessen and shorten the flu. Call your doctor if you have signs of the flu or think you were exposed, especially if you have a condition like diabetes, heart disease, or HIV that makes you more likely to have complications.
The CDC recommends oseltamivir (Tamiflu), peramivir (Rapivab), or zanamivir (Relenza). The drugs work best when you get them within 48 hours of your first symptoms. They can cut your case of flu by a day if you get them early on. You'll take them for 5 days. They can also help prevent the flu in someone who's just been exposed.
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