The flu, also known as influenza, is a contagious respiratory disease that is caused by the influenza virus. Influenza is spread by droplets of moisture; when someone with influenza sneezes, coughs or talks the droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, ultimately spreading it to them.
Influenza is seasonal and typically starts in mid fall and ends mid to late spring. Influenza comes back every year due to the virus’s genetic makeup and its high rate of mutation. Since the virus changes its genetics every time it reproduces, a person’s immune system will rarely see the same virus year to year or even in the same year. Our bodies also don’t have enough time to produce the correct antibodies to provide protection against the influenza virus compared to more stable viruses and bacteria that don’t change as often.
Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, dry cough, and aching in the muscles and joints. Most people recover within a week after they become ill, although they may continue to feel tired for several days. Symptoms usually appear 1-3 days after being infected. A person is contagious with influenza 24 hours before the onset of signs and symptoms to 3-5 days after onset.
Since influenza can spread from person to person so easily, it is important to take proper precautions. The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone ages 6 months and older get a flu vaccine. The vaccine is especially important for people at high risk of complications associated with influenza such as pregnant women, older adults and young children as well as those with chronic medical conditions. The flu often affects older adults and infants more than other populations because their immune system is not as strong and their bodies have to work harder to fight off the virus.
Other ways to avoid getting and spreading the flu is to:
- Get the flu vaccine. The vaccine may help to lessen the duration and the severity of symptoms if you get the flu.
- Stay home if you are sick. Take a break from daily errands and rest, don’t venture out unless needed. If you have to venture out wear a mask.
- See your doctor as soon as you are experiencing signs and symptoms. If you can catch influenza in the early stages and be treated with an antiviral medication, you can potentially shorten the duration and the severity of the illness.
- Wash your hands and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
We all want to stay healthy for the holiday season so please do what you can to avoid getting and spreading the flu.
Submitted by: Anna Treague, RN, Burnett County Public Health
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