Influenza—commonly known as “the flu”—is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by the influenza virus. In the U.S., between 5-20% of the population gets the flu annually. Usually it is mild, but it can become quite severe. In fact, over 200,000 adults and children are hospitalized due to the flu each year.
If you get the flu, your symptoms are likely to include a high fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, a stuffy or runny nose and achy muscles. However, it is important to note some additional risks associated with the flu.
“Unfortunately, complications can occur because of the flu, such as bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, sinus problems and ear infections,” says Dr. Terry Buzzard, Chief Medical Officer at Physicians Immediate Care. “Also, if you have heart disease, COPD, diabetes, or asthma, you should check with your doctor if you think you have the flu. These conditions can make the flu more dangerous for you.”
What Can I Do Now to Protect Myself?
When someone with the virus coughs or sneezes, respiratory particles can pass from them to you. The germs can be transmitted through the air or by touching a surface that has the flu virus on it—your phone, a keyboard, a doorknob, pens and pencils, your credit card, or checkbook. All are potential hosts for the virus.
“You should also be aware that people who have the flu can be contagious for a day or so even before symptoms appear, and typically for 5-7 days after the onset of symptoms,” explains Dr. Buzzard.
Here are some tips to protect yourself:
- Wash your hands. Basic soap and water and a little scrubbing will wash viruses down the drain. Travel size hand sanitizers are also effective and handy.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. This can increase the spread of germs.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces or objects. Clean common surfaces such as your keyboard, phone, and door handles regularly to get rid of germs.
The Flu Vaccination
Avoidance behaviors are definitely helpful, but it simply isn’t possible or practical to avoid all potential sites where the virus could be hidden. The good news is, however, there is another great way to avoid the flu: get vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that getting the vaccine reduces your chances of getting the flu by 70-90%, although in some groups it may be more or less effective.
Here are some things you should know about the flu vaccination:
- Almost anyone can be vaccinated, and it especially important for more vulnerable groups, such as people over 65 and those in contact with infants to get vaccinated.
- The sooner you get the vaccine, the better. It can take up to two weeks for it to take effect. Plus, the further you get into the flu season, the higher your risk of contracting the virus.
- Many urgent care providers, offer a convenient option where you can stop by with no appointment and get a flu shot.
You Can Help Others—Even When You’re Ill
Despite your best efforts, if you wind up with the flu, rest and drink plenty of fluids, and get help from your doctor if you need it. You also are in a position to help keep others from getting the flu.
“Even though you aren’t feeling your best, you might feel a little better knowing you can do your part to keep the virus away from others,” says Dr. Buzzard. “Things you can do include coughing into your elbow instead of your hand, washing your hands frequently and staying home if you aren’t feeling well.”
If you haven’t had your flu shot yet, stop by one of Physicians Immediate Care’s convenient locations in Illinois and Indiana. In addition to caring physicians and staff who have been serving patients for more than 30 years, Physicians Immediate Care also offers evening and weekend hours, and no appointment is needed.