It’s that time of year when it feels like everyone is sick: your coworker, kids at school, and the person behind you in line at Walmart.
It can be stressful figuring out how to stay healthy and when to call your doctor.
This guide will help you navigate this flu season.
Do I have “the flu”?
Influenza, commonly known as “the flu”, is a highly contagious viral respiratory illness. While many people use the term “stomach flu” to describe nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which are also caused by viruses but are not influenza.
More common symptoms are:
- Sore throat
- Runny or congested nose
- Body aches
Because Influenza and “the common cold” are both respiratory illnesses caused by viruses, it can be difficult to tell the difference.
According to the CDC, these are the main symptom differences in the flu vs. a cold:
- Abrupt symptom onset
- Usually a fever
- Usually body aches
- Chills are common
- Usually fatigue
- Sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat sometimes
- Chest discomfort and a cough common
- Headaches rare
- Gradual symptom onset
- Rarely a fever
- Only slight aches
- Chills are uncommon
- Fatigue sometimes
- Sneezing, stuffy nose, and sore throat common
- Chest discomfort and a cough less common and more mild
- Headaches common
Preventing the spread of influenza
Influenza is spread by respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. You can infect others even if you do not yet have symptoms.
Here are steps you can take to help stop the flu and other illnesses from spreading:
- Vaccination. Getting your annual flu shot is the best prevention. The shot protects against many strains of the virus and has also been proven to reduce the severity and duration of the disease.
- Wash your hands. Proper handwashing requires 20 seconds with soap and warm water and drying with a paper towel. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
- Stay home. If you are sick, stay home from school or work. Keeping your distance when you have an illness helps protect others.
- Cover your mouth. Use a tissue or the upper part of your arm to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Disinfect surfaces. The flu virus can live on a surface for two to eight hours. Germicides such as chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, and detergents can kill the virus when used properly.
Flu season can seem endless, starting as early as October and lasting until late May.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help boost your own immunity. They include:
- Eat smart. Foods such as garlic, citrus, almonds, fish, and carrots can all boost your immune system but, pop, fried food, and alcohol inhibit it.
- Sleep. While you sleep, your immune system releases proteins necessary for fighting infection. Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water helps naturally eliminate toxins and other bacteria that may cause illness.
- Bundle up. When your extremities are cold, your supply of white blood cells—which help fight illness—is reduced.
- Keep moving. Regular exercise boosts blood flow which circulates white blood cells. Increased body temperature and respiratory rate during exercise can also help you fight infection and flush bacteria from your lungs and airways.
Dr. Vicki Brown is a board certified family physician is at Fisher-Titus Family Medicine in Willard at 315 Crestwood Drive. Dr. Brown is a Diplomate, American Board of Family Medicine and a Fellow, American Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Vicki and Dr. Chris Brown have been serving patients in the Willard are for over two decades. For appointments, call 419-935-0196.