'Tis the sneezin'
You're dropping your child off at school and notice that over half the class is absent. Many children have runny noses that they wipe on their hands and sleeves whenever the teacher, who has red-rimmed eyes and a rattling cough, isn't looking. You arrive at work and are greeted by a cacophony of sniffling and sneezing. Your co-workers attempt to be productive as they hack and sputter into crumpled tissues. Later, as you stand in line in at Reliable or Cronig's, you notice that carts are being filled with chicken soup, ibuprofen, orange juice, and tissues. The flu - it seems inevitable.
Influenza, the flu, is caused by viruses infecting the respiratory tract, and is highly contagious and easily spread from person to person by breathing in droplets from coughing or sneezing, or touching something with flu virus and then touching the mouth or nose. You are able to infect someone else before your own symptoms occur, and up to five days after becoming sick.
Symptoms include headache and muscle ache, fever, fatigue, and respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose. Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea, can sometimes be part of influenza, particularly in children. What is commonly called "stomach flu," where the main symptoms are stomach and intestinal distress, is actually a separate gastrointestinal illness caused by other microorganisms.
While most of us will recover from a flu infection in one to two weeks, it can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and extremely dangerous, especially for the elderly, children, pregnant women, and those who are immuno-compromised or have chronic health issues like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. But it is not necessarily inevitable. There are many ways to prevent flu infection and keep your family healthy this winter.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends the "flu shot" or nasal-spray flu vaccine: "the single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each year."
Shots are approved for those six months of age and older, including healthy individuals and those with chronic medical conditions.
The spray, also called LAIV (Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine), is approved for use in healthy people aged 2-49 who are not pregnant. It's important to recognize that this doesn't guarantee that someone won't get the flu. However, it's reported that getting vaccinated will shorten the duration of and decrease the severity of a flu infection. (For more information, visit cdc.gov/flu.)