Influenza isn’t just a cold on steroids. This disease, which resurfaces every fall and can be a health risk well into the next spring, can knock even the healthiest people out of commission for a week to 10 days.
While the flu can be dangerous to infants, elderly adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems or chronic illness, for most people it’s not deadly, just extremely unpleasant. It’s good to be aware of the symptoms and know how to treat them.
According to the Mayo Clinic, early symptoms of the flu appear like a common cold, though they are likely to come on quickly and then get much worse than a cold. Common symptoms of the flu include a fever higher than 100 degrees, aching muscles, chills and sweats, headache, a dry, persistent cough, fatigue, weakness, nasal congestion and a sore throat.
Most people with the flu don’t need to see a doctor. Stay home for at least a full day after your fever subsides (your coworkers and fellow students will thank you), rest, drink lots of fluids and treat the symptoms as necessary to remain comfortable. If you or a family member are at risk of complications, see a doctor immediately. Taking antiviral drugs within the first two days may shorten the length of your illness and help prevent other problems.
Those who are at risk and should seek medical care include the elderly and very young; people who live or work in facilities like hospitals or nursing homes; people with weakened immune systems, like those who have cancer or are going through chemotherapy; people with chronic illnesses like asthma, diabetes or heart disease; pregnant women; and people with obesity.
Getting a vaccine is your first and best option for prevention. It makes you less likely to get sick and likely will reduce the severity of the illness if you do get sick. Other ways to prevent the spread of disease include regularly washing your hands, using alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and avoiding crowds.
Flu spreads more easily when people are close to each other, such as in child care centers, schools, auditoriums, public transportation, and perhaps most importantly, doctor’s offices and emergency rooms during flu season.