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Tis the Season - for the Flu…

Nov 01, 2011

There is a chill in the air, the leaves are turning, the humidity is gone and we are experiencing glorious fall weather in Atlanta.  While we are enjoying this beautiful time of year, we are also facing the onset of an annual inevitability – the flu. 

According to the CDC, influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older people, family caregivers, non-medical homecare workers, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

* It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

How the Flu spreads

People with flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

To avoid this, people should wash their hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Eating utensils can be washed either in a dishwasher or by hand with water and soap and do not need to be cleaned separately.

The Flu Is Contagious

Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some persons can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others.

Preventing the Flu

The CDC advises that everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each flu season.  It is especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu–related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu–related complications.

  • Pregnant women
  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long–term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
    • Health care workers
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
    • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)

The 2011-2012 flu vaccine will protect against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season. This includes an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus.

Additional Preventive Measures

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based rub
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu–like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

For more information, visit the CDC's website at here.