We are smack-dab in the middle of flu season, and unless sick people stay at home until they feel much better, we are all potential candidates to catch this “bug.”  There are several types of influenza;  the seasonal flu activity usually peaks in January or February.  However, it can sneak up on you as early as October, until the month of May.  There are many precautions we can take to avoid being ill from this virus.  The best preventative measure is to get the flu vaccine.  

Vaccines vary according to the strain of flu that is prevalent every season.  However, the Centers for Disease Control provide the vaccine that is deemed proper for the expected type of flu that is anticipated to be widespread.  Everyone six months of age to the elderly should get this vaccine.  Those age 65 and older and children younger than age 2 are more likely to have complications from the flu. 

Flu viruses are a contagious respiratory illness.  It can cause mild to severe illness, and sometimes, the flu can lead to death.  At last report, in our state of Texas, twelve persons have died from complications of the flu.  One of those persons  lived in my small hometown, and was only 47 years old.  She had the swine flu.  Complications from the flu may be pneumonia and dehydration.  

When you are around someone who is sneezing, coughing, or talking to you, experts say that you are exposed to the flu because their germs land in your mouth or nose.  Yuk!  If you touch a surface or object that has the flu virus on it, and then touch your mouth, eyes, or nose, you hve found another way to contact the virus.  That’s why it is important to keep your hands clean.  Keep some hand sanitizer in your pocket or purse, and another container in your car.  Remember, when leaving a public restroom or any other public place, elevator, escalator, or using shared equipment in your place of work, watch what you touch,  and wash or clean your hands often.  (And stay away from anyone who is sick as much as possible.) 

Flu and the common cold have similar symptoms.  We want to help you understand the differences.  First, flu symptoms: 

  • Fever, body aches, cough, and fatigue.
  • A 100°F or higher fever, or feeling feverish (some persons with the flu do not run fever).
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches and body aches
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Almost never causes upset stomach, except:
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea (most common in children)
  • Chills. 

Cold symptoms: 

  • Colds rarely cause fever or headaches.
  • Runny nose.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Sneezing, coughing. 

The flu can be much worse than the common cold.  Seek medical attention immediately if you have any of the following: 

  • Sudden dizziness;
  • Confusion;
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen;
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath;
  • Seizures;
  • Purple or blue discoloration of the lips. 

If you think you have the flu, go to your doctor, who can test to see if your illness is the flu.  Please stay at home until you are completely over it.  Some of the flu-like symptoms can improve, but later come back with fever and a worse cough.  Avoid contact with your co-workers until you are well.  Your family members can use antibacterial spray and wipes to help avoid catching the flu, and if they have been vaccinated, this will be most  helpful.  Face masks can help both the patient and caregiver avoid those germs floating around in the air.  Face masks and latex gloves  are also very useful for persons with underlying health problems to use when traveling.

One additional clarification:  Stomach “flu” is really gastroenteritis, not the flu. 

Source:                  NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases