Influenza, also known as the flu, is a common virus that can lead to a range of symptoms. Flu is most common from November to March, but there is always some unpredictability.
Here’s everything you need to know about the flu and how to stay healthy this season.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Flu symptoms usually appear all of a sudden. Symptoms may include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue. Sometimes people infected with the flu may even experience vomiting or diarrhea.
How do you differentiate between the flu and the common cold?
Although it is easy to mix up the common cold and the flu, there are ways to differentiate. Common cold symptoms come on slowly. Chills and fever are rare in the common cold. You usually do not experience muscle and body ache with the common cold. Sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat occur more in the common cold than with the flu.
How is the flu diagnosed?
Symptoms usually point to the flu, but there are also some laboratory tests that can confirm the diagnosis. One quick test, which can be done at the doctor’s office, is the rapid flu test. With the rapid flu test, a nurse or doctor swipes the inside of your nose with a swab and tests the swab for the virus. The results can be obtained in 10 to 15 minutes. A test that is positive for the virus will most likely mean that you have the flu. However, sometimes these tests do not show the virus even if you have it. In those cases, your doctor might still diagnose you with the flu based on your symptoms and their clinical judgment.
What is the treatment of the flu?
Most people with the flu will get better on their own, usually requiring some rest, lots of fluids, and over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen for fever and muscle aches. However, we do have prescription medications specifically targeting the flu virus that may be prescribed by your doctor. These medications make the flu milder and shorten the length of illness. More importantly, these medications may help prevent complications of the flu.
What are the complications of the flu?
Some people may develop complications from the flu that lead to more severe illness that may be life threatening. Pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, is a serious flu complication. The flu can cause additional infections of the ears, sinuses, and blood. It can trigger inflammation in the body, specifically in the heart and muscles. Warning signs of serious complications include trouble breathing, chest pain, dizziness, confusion, and not urinating. If you had a fever or cough that got better but then returned this is also a warning sign. If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, please obtain medical care right away.
How can I prevent myself from getting the flu?
There are precautions everyone can take to decrease their risk of getting the flu. It is recommended that everyone 6 months and older get the vaccine, especially pregnant women, those with chronic medical conditions, and those over the age of 65. The vaccine can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed days of school and work. The vaccine can also decrease the risk of flu complications. There is a misconception that the vaccine causes the flu, but this is false. In addition to getting the vaccine, everyone can use some simple habits to prevent the flu from spreading. These habits include staying away from people that are sick, washing your hands regularly, and covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing. Please stay home when you are sick to prevent spreading your illness to others, especially those who may be more susceptible to severe illness and complications.
Dr. Manisha Bhutani is board certified in Internal Medicine and practices at Premier Medical Group’s Internal Medicine Division located in Fishkill.
To schedule an appointment please call #845.838.8480