As the winter months continue to bring chilly weather to Pahrump and with children back in school – we continue to be in the (influenza) flu season. Celebrations around the New Year are hotbeds for germs and some people may be going back to school or work with the sniffles. Preparation is always the most important action you can take to kick-start a healthy 2016.
Flu season begins in October and can last until May in Nevada. To make sure you are doing everything possible to avoid the flu, it’s important to learn the basics about this infectious disease, how it is spread and how to protect you and your family. Don’t forget to practice everyday prevention actions like washing your hands regularly, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and limiting contact with sick people. If you do get the flu, early treatment is key.
Here are some other answers to common flu questions.
Is it just a cold or do I have the flu? The flu is typically more severe and comes on faster than a cold. People who get the flu suffer from symptoms including fever, chills, cough, sore throat, congestion, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue. A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you feel miserable for a multiple days and weeks.
How is the flu spread? People with the flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. The virus is spread mainly by droplets made when people cough, sneeze or talk.
When are people with the flu contagious? Most adults are contagious 24-48 hours before symptoms start and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days.
Should I get a flu vaccine? Yes, it helps prevent infection and serious flu-related complications in many people. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated even if you’ve already had the flu, because it’s possible you’ll catch a different strain of the virus later in the season.
When should I get the flu vaccine? As soon as vaccines are available in your community. If you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can typically get a flu vaccine at a health department, pharmacy, urgent care clinic or at your school/work.
Should everyone get vaccinated? According to the CDC, everyone 6 months of age and older should receive a flu vaccine, with rare exception. Consult a physician if you have concerns.
What do I do if I catch the flu? Stay at home, rest, limit contact with people, cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands a lot. You may want to consider wearing a mask around anyone you live with, while you are sick. Your fever should be gone for at least 24 hours before easing back into your routine. You should be able to keep your fever under control with an over-the-counter fever reducer. For children who are too young for cold medications, consider using a nasal bulb, saline spray or even taking them into a bathroom with a steamy shower to clear mucus.
When should I go to the doctor? If you are in a high-risk group for flu complications or are experiencing severe symptoms, you should visit your physician immediately. People with high risk from the flu include older adults (65 and up), children, pregnant women, and people with serious health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease. Emergency warning signs include difficulty breathing, pain in the chest, sudden dizziness, vomiting, excessive fever and confusion.
Are there medicines for the flu? Flu antiviral drugs can be prescribed by doctors, who usually recommend them if you are showing severe symptoms or have a high risk of complications. These drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you’re sick by one or two days.
For more information about the flu vaccine and vaccination clinics visit www.influencenevada.org.
Dr. Richard Roberts is medical director of Amerigroup Nevada, and Heidi Parker is executive director of Immunize Nevada.