This year’s flu season is packing a wallop across most of the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), widespread outbreaks have been reported in 47 states, making this the worst season in more than a decade. What makes this season so severe is the type of Influenza virus strain. This strain can lead to more complications and make people sick for longer periods of time. While the epidemic reports may have you near panic, rest assured there are things you can do to help protect yourself and loved ones during this outbreak season. Here are some answers to the most commonly asked flu questions:

(1) Is it a cold or the flu? The flu and the common cold both will have you reaching for the tissues, but they’re caused by different viruses. The cold virus generally attacks your nose and throat while the flu virus attacks your whole respiratory system (nose, throat, bronchial tubes and possibly the lungs). Additionally, the flu symptoms are much more severe than the common cold and typically include a fever, body aches, extreme fatigue, chills and cough. These symptoms last for three to four days, but the cough may last longer.

(2) I got a flu shot. Am I safe? The flu vaccine is about 60 percent effective according to the CDC. How well it works depends on a person’s age and health, as well as how good the vaccine matches the flu strain. Researchers say that while getting the vaccine isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get the flu, it can still protect you against flu-related complications if you were to get sick. Also, it can reduce the severity of the infection. Check with your doctor to see if the vaccine is right for you.

(3) If I get the flu, when should I see a doctor? Normal flu symptoms such as fever and congestion will make you feel uncomfortable, but should only last a few days. Getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of fluids and eating bland foods should have you back on your feet in about a week. That said, there are times when the flu can turn serious. You should seek medical attention immediately if you have:

– Difficulty breathing
– Pain in your chest
– Trouble keeping fluids down because of nausea and vomiting
– A fever above 103 degrees Fahrenheit or fever lasting more than three days
– Children refusing to eat/drink, or experiencing a rash

(4) When is someone the most contagious? A difficult thing with the flu is that you’re contagious before you experience any symptoms and then a few days after. Coughing, sneezing or even talking can spread the virus. Be diligent with the basics: cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze; and wash your hands frequently. Once you begin feeling symptoms, stay home.

(5) How can I prevent getting the flu? Flu germs can live on surfaces for up to eight hours. If you touch a surface and pick up the virus, then rub your eyes or nose, you’ve likely been infected. A few of the best ways to help protect yourself, and help prevent the spread of the virus, are:

– Wash your hands frequently. Use hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to water.
– Cough and sneeze into a tissue, your arm (not your hand) or away from others.
– Refrain from touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
– Keep common surfaces (phones, remotes, keyboards) clean.
– Keep your immune system strong by eating healthy foods and get plenty of regular exercise. (Studies show that people who exercise often have less severe symptoms and recover more quickly.)

Sources:

http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/top-10-questions-flu

http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/11/health/top-flu-questions-answered/index.html

http://www.health.harvard.edu/flu-resource-center/when-to-contact-your-doctor-about-flu-symptoms.htm

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