It’s that time of year again – flu season is upon us. At Ruby Hall Clinic, we want to help our community stay healthy and avoid the misery of influenza infection. In this comprehensive guide developed by our expert physicians, we provide key information on identifying, treating, and preventing flu during the winter months.
By learning about influenza signs, transmission, high-risk groups, and prevention tips, you can keep yourself and loved ones safe this season. Read on for practical advice from Ruby Hall Clinic on making it through flu season unscathed. We’re here to support the health of all our patients this winter.
What is Influenza?
Influenza, commonly called “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It has a long history of causing seasonal epidemics worldwide.
There are four types of influenza viruses: A, B, C and D. Influenza A and B cause the annual winter flu seasons. Influenza C infections generally cause mild illness, while influenza D affects cattle populations.
The flu is marked by sudden onset of fever, muscle aches, sore throat, cough, headache, runny nose, and malaise. For most people it lasts 1-2 weeks, but it can lead to severe illness or death in high-risk populations. Annual flu vaccination is the best way to prevent infection.
Symptoms of the Flu
Influenza can cause an abrupt onset of debilitating symptoms that distinguish it from the common cold. Typical flu symptoms include:
– High Fever: Usually 100°F to 104°F in adults, and can be higher in children. Fever comes on suddenly and lasts 3-4 days. Chills, sweats, headache, and muscle shivering often accompany fever.
– Body Aches and Pains: The flu causes diffuse muscle aches and joint pain in the back, arms, legs and neck. The muscles feel extremely sore and tender. Severe pain may occur with movement or even touch.
– Fatigue and Weakness: Profound tiredness and malaise set in rapidly. Performing simple activities or even walking across a room can seem exhausting. This extreme weakness and lethargy may persist for 2-3 weeks after the acute illness resolves.
– Dry Cough: A hacking cough is common, sometimes becoming severe. It’s usually dry rather than productive. Coughs can be severe enough to cause vomiting, rib fractures or abdominal wall tears in rare cases.
– Sore Throat: Throat pain and hoarseness from coughing are common. Swallowing can be painful.
– Nasal Congestion: Stuffy, runny nose and post-nasal drip are usual symptoms but not as prominent as in a cold. Sneezing is uncommon.
– Headaches: Severe headaches behind the eyes and across the forehead often occur.
Recovery from fever and systemic symptoms occurs within 3-7 days in most otherwise healthy people. Cough and fatigue can persist for 2 weeks or more. Complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis or worsening of chronic conditions can occur.
How Influenza Spreads
The highly contagious flu virus spreads through direct contact with respiratory secretions or contaminated surfaces. Common transmission routes include:
– Coughing and Sneezing: When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they release aerosolized droplets laden with influenza virus. This creates a cloud of infection that can be inhaled by others nearby. Coughing spreads the virus farther than sneezing.
– Close Contact: The flu readily spreads through close personal contact within 6 feet (2 meters), when infected droplets can land on someone’s nose or mouth. Shaking hands or kissing someone sick with the flu facilitates transmission.
– Touching Contaminated Surfaces: Respiratory droplets settle on surrounding surfaces like countertops, doorknobs, elevator buttons, ATM machines, etc. Touching these surfaces then touching your eyes, nose or mouth spreads the viral particles. Influenza virus can survive on surfaces for up to 48 hours.
– Airborne Transmission: Experimental studies show the influenza virus may remain infectious in microscopic aerosolized droplets suspended in the air for hours. Air currents can transmit these tiny droplets throughout enclosed spaces like offices or hospitals.
The flu is contagious starting about 1 day before symptoms arise until 5-7 days after. Very young children can shed virus for over 10 days. Using precautions like face masks, hand hygiene, surface disinfection, isolation, and avoiding crowds can prevent influenza spread.
Who is at Risk
Certain groups are at high risk for flu complications like pneumonia, hospitalisation, and death. These include:
- Young children under 5 years
- Adults over age 65
- Pregnant women
- Residents of long-term care facilities
- People with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or HIV
- Immunocompromised patients
Annual vaccination against the flu is recommended for all individuals 6 months and older, with extra emphasis on high-risk groups. Excellent protection against infection is conferred about two weeks after getting the flu shot.
Here is an expanded section on tips for staying safe during flu season:
You’re absolutely right, I apologize for omitting a section on diagnosis and treatment of influenza. Here is an expanded section covering those topics:
Diagnosis of Influenza
Doctors can often diagnose the flu based on characteristic symptoms like fever, body aches, fatigue, and cough that occur during seasonal epidemics.
Several medical tests can confirm influenza infection:
- Rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs) can provide results within 30 minutes by detecting influenza antigens in a nasal or throat swab. However, RIDTs have only moderate sensitivity.
- Reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is the most accurate way to diagnose influenza. This molecular test detects viral RNA in respiratory samples with high sensitivity and specificity. Results take 1-3 days.
- Viral culture can identify influenza viruses in cell culture from respiratory specimens. This is generally not required for diagnosis but may be used to characterize viral strains.
Treatment of Influenza
Most healthy people will recover at home with rest, fluids, over-the-counter pain relievers, and other supportive self-care. However, contact your doctor promptly if you have concern about complications.
Antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) can shorten duration by 1-2 days if started within 48 hours of symptom onset. These may help prevent severe outcomes in high-risk groups.
Hospitalization with intensive medical support may be necessary for severe disease or complications like pneumonia, sepsis, heart problems, or exacerbation of underlying chronic medical conditions.
Preventing influenza through annual vaccination remains the best way to avoid this potentially serious illness. Contact your healthcare provider early on if flu is suspected so appropriate treatment can be initiated.
Tips for Staying Safe During Flu Season
Follow these crucial tips from Ruby Hall Clinic to protect yourself and loved ones from influenza this winter:
– Get Vaccinated: Getting your annual flu shot in September or October is the best way to prevent infection. The vaccine provides protection against prevalent flu strains about two weeks after injection. Stay vigilant about flu shots for children and high-risk groups.
– Hand Hygiene: Wash hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, especially before eating or touching your face. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap is unavailable. Teach children proper handwashing techniques.
– Respiratory Etiquette: Always cover coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue or the inside of your elbow rather than hands. Properly dispose of used tissues. Wearing a face mask reduces droplet spread.
– Surface Disinfection: Clean frequently touched surfaces like phones, remote controls, counters, keyboards and door handles with EPA-approved disinfectants. Use alcohol wipes on the go. Allow surfaces to remain wet for the full contact time.
– Avoid Crowds: Stay away from crowded indoor spaces and large gatherings like parties, trains, malls, theaters when flu risk is high. The virus concentrates in poorly ventilated enclosed areas.
– Isolate When Sick: Adults should stay home for at least 24 hours after fever subsides without medication. Children should be isolated for a full 24 hours after symptoms resolve. This prevents spreading flu to others.
– Don’t Share Items: Avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, towels, or personal items with those who are ill. This minimizes viral transmission through oral-fecal routes.
– Rest and Hydrate: Get adequate sleep, drink fluids, and eat nutritious foods to support your immune system if you do get sick. Over-the-counter medications can provide symptom relief.
Contact your doctor right away if symptoms don’t improve after several days or worsen rapidly. Prescription antiviral medication started early can reduce flu severity and duration.
Don’t let the flu ruin your winter – follow our tips to stay healthy. The physicians at Ruby Hall Clinic aim to reduce influenza infections through vaccination, public education, and prompt treatment of those affected. Contact us today to get your annual flu shot or if flu-like illness strikes. Together, we can make this flu season mild and manageable for the entire community.