While the holiday season is past, there’s another season underway that few people look forward to: flu season. The influenza (flu) virus can wreak havoc with your health, make you feel miserable, and can be life threatening for older adults and those with chronic diseases.
“The flu is caused by strains of the influenza virus, which is a very contagious virus that is spread primarily by droplets,” said Mark Browne, MD, Covenant Health senior vice president and chief medical officer. “So when people cough, sneeze, or talk, the flu virus can spread up to six or seven feet away.”
The flu is also spread by touch, Dr. Browne said. “If people cough or sneeze and then touch their faces, the virus can live up to two hours on ‘high-touch’ surfaces such as towel bars, door handles and computer keyboards.”
Dr. Browne explained that flu symptoms typically last from a few days up to two weeks and can range from mild to life-threatening, especially among older adults or those with chronic diseases. Flu symptoms can include a sudden onset of:
- runny or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- body aches
- vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
“The flu itself is more likely to be debilitating for those with chronic diseases such as asthma, COPD, or heart disease. But it also can cause a flare-up of the chronic disease or condition, making recovery longer and more difficult,” Dr. Browne said. He advised that the best way to prevent flu and combat the spread of the virus is to get a flu shot.
“The Centers for Disease Control recommends a flu vaccination for everyone age 6 months and older,” he noted. “The vaccine not only helps prevent you from getting the flu, but if you do get the flu, it is likely to be a milder case.”
Morristown-Hamblen Healthcare System, a member of Covenant Health, works closely with the Hamblen County Health Department to ensure the Lakeway Area receives immediate and appropriate care during the flu season. Free flu shots are available at the Hamblen County Health Department, 331 West Main St. in Morristown. For information call 423-586-6431.
“Flu season” starts as early as October and typically extends through May. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to take effect, but provides protection for a full year.
Some people should not get a flu vaccination, such as those who have had severe allergic reactions to the vaccine in the past. Your healthcare provider can help you determine if there is a reason you should NOT receive the vaccine.
Other Tips to Prevent the Spread of Influenza
Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth as you go through the day. Try to avoid close contact with people who are ill.
- Influenza is a virus and does not respond to antibiotics. However, your doctor may prescribe anti-viral drugs, which can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after you are fever-free without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. While you are sick, limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
- Most cases of the flu resolve over time with rest and plenty of fluids. If you do need non-emergency medical treatment, a physician office or walk-in clinic can often provide fast and effective care.
- In addition to other preventive measures, make sure you are eating nutritious foods, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting adequate rest.
To learn more about symptoms and treatment options for severe cold and flu, click here.